PBG Public Exposition on Concepts for Baseball Stadium

There has been criticism in the recent past that the baseball stadium proposal for the Gardens off Central Boulevard was on a fast track for approval before the public had been informed. Judging by the public exposition yesterday at the Doubletree Hotel, the city is doing its part to open up the process for public scrutiny and comment, and the criticism may be premature.

According to the Palm Beach Post, about 300 residents showed up to “kick the tires” on ideas for developing currently vacant county land near Watson Duncan Middle School and the Gardens Tennis Center into a spring training facility for the Houston Astros and Toronto BlueJays.

A room had been setup with about 6 “stations” giving information about baseball in Florida, economic impact to the area, the site plan, roads impact, financing, and the process to come (most of which is “TBD”). Much of the information had been discussed prior to the meeting, but the site plan pictures were new. What we gleaned from about an hour perusing the exhibits and talking with City Manager Ron Ferris and others was:

  • The facility is needed to provide a “critical mass” for baseball in southeast Florida and prevent the loss of teams currently using county-owned Roger Dean stadium in Jupiter.
  • Economic activity resulting from the facility (eg. hotel rooms, restaurants, etc.) is estimated at $80-$100M per year (Roger Dean is said to account for $56M.)
  • The site plan includes the stadium in the northeast corner adjacent to I95, practice fields west and southeast, and a grassy parking area that would be used for athletic fields in the off season. All of the space is utilized and the plan would take advantage of the “25% set-aside” waiver for public development that was passed by the Council recently.
  • Spring training lasts 6 weeks. During the rest of the year, the facility could be used for semi-pro teams, public events, and other Gardens athletic programs.
  • Construction financing, estimated at $100M, would come from the state ($50M already set aside for this purpose by the legislature) and county bed tax receipts. Allocation of the bed tax is too complex to describe here, but it is useful to know that the two largest consumers of bed tax dollars are the debt service for the county convention center and Roger Dean Stadium. The Roger Dean bonds will be paid off by 2016, and the new stadium would be funded from the new dollars that are then available.
  • The city plans to buy the land from the county (it already owns part of the footprint) in any case. An appraisal has not yet been completed.
  • We asked what developers have expressed interest in the project but no names were forthcoming. There would be a competitive bidding process if the time comes.
  • The city plans to own and operate the facility (either directly, with city employees) or through a concessionaire. The teams would play some role in that. Operational financing was only discussed in vague terms. It is our understanding that Roger Dean operates at a profit and requires no subsidy from the county other than debt service on the construction bonds (a pleasant contrast to the convention center which consistently loses money). When asked how the Gardens facility operational model would compare with Roger Dean, no one we spoke with knew enough about the Jupiter facility to answer.

Before forming an opinion whether the construction of the stadium is a good deal for Palm Beach Gardens, we would have to know a great deal more about the financing, including the operational business plan, future revenue projections, city liability for losses, agreement with the teams to stay in the Gardens for the forseeable future, etc. Concerns with the residents in close proximity to the facility about noise and traffic would also have to be addressed. But as a public relations campaign begins to educate and get buy-in from Gardens citizens, we thought the event was successful and that City Manager Ferris is managing the expectations well.

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