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Lee County nears deal to keep Twins

Oct. 26, 2012
Minnesota Twins agreement
Minnesota Twins agreement: Dave St. Peter President of the Minnesota Twins met with county commisioner Tammy Hall on Friday to discuss the long term lease with the team. (Video by Guy Tubbs/


The Lee County government and the Minnesota Twins are on the verge of extending their lease by 30 years.

The cost of improvements to the complex is expected to be about $45 million, Lee County Commission Chairman John Manning said, with $15 million being contributed by the state of Florida in $500,000 increments over the 30-year deal.

The Twins would contribute $13.5 million, which includes an increase in rent from $300,000 a year to $500,000 year. Part of the remaining $7.5 million will be used to construct a player dormitory on property the county would contribute for the project.

The refinancing of $35 million in bonds would finance the rest of the project, Manning said.

ďIím very glad that the Twins stepped up to the plate,Ē Manning said. ďI think itís critical that they do that. Itís a totally different deal from the Red Sox. The Twins really came around and indicated that they wanted to stay.Ē

The Boston Red Sox moved this past spring into JetBlue Park, which cost close to $80 million with a lease that keeps them there through 2042.

The county and the Twins have been in talks all year, as the current lease at the Lee County Sports Complex expires in 2020.

The county also is continuing its negotiations with the Washington Nationals, who are considering City of Palms Park, former spring home of the Red Sox, as a new home should they relocate from Viera.

The 30-year extension with the Twins likely would begin with the year in which the project breaks ground. That is expected to be by 2015, which would keep the Twins in Lee County through at least 2045.

Spring training, which begins in mid-February and ends in early April, generates $25 million in economic impact per team, according to a 2000 study by the Florida Sports Foundation.

Talks continued Thursday in Fort Myers between Bill Smith, a Twins assistant to general manager Terry Ryan, and several county commissioners, Smith said.

ďThe Twins and Lee County have enjoyed a great partnership for 22 years, and we look forward to many more,Ē Smith said in an email, declining further comment.

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The details of the agreement, including plans to revamp the concourse, add seating sections and constructing a new gift shop and concession area are slated to be released today.

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners would vote on the agreement, outgoing Lee County Commissioner Brian Bigelow said.

Bigelow said he did not plan on voting in favor of the lease extension but expected it to pass by a 4-1 vote.

ďI didnít think we could afford it because of what we did with the Red Sox,Ē Bigelow said. ďI just didnít have the stomach for it. I donít think we can afford it. The price tag is somewhere in the $40 million area. Thatís not top secret. I just think itíll have to be up to the other four commissioners.

ďTheyíre claiming that thereís enough revenue to do it. Iím not saying theyíre wrong. Iím saying I have my doubts. Iím a skeptic. You have to anticipate a certain amount of bed tax revenue coming in. You have to have various scenarios. Itís not affordable. Thatís a problem, in my opinion.

ďI expect it to be deja vu all over again. Iím not saying there isnít an argument to keep the Twins and to keep the Sox. But youíve got to remember it comes at a cost in this economic state of our county if you will. Itís a whole lot of money. Itís really difficult I think.Ē

Manning said he planned on voting in favor of the extension. Plans called for additional seating capacity.

ďTheyíre trying to look at a design that would add another 1,000 seats, which would be good for Lee County tourism and the surroundings,Ē Manning said.

Commissioners Ray Judah, Frank Mann and Tammy Hall could not be reached for comment.

Connect with this reporter: David Dorsey (Facebook), @DavidADorsey (Twitter).

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