Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Shapiro, Jays Take Grilling Over Spring Training Funding

  Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro was front-and-center at a meeting today of the board which determines who gets funding (and how much) from the Pinellas County hotel tax fund.  The Blue Jays have applied to the fund to help pay for upgrades to the Blue Jays minor league complex, and improvements to aged Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, where the team plays its spring training games.
   Shapiro told the board, "We don't want just want a spring training facility....we want a 365 day home," referring to the team's high performance division, which is headquartered at the Mattick Complex.  He faced a sceptical audience, however, and when he cited the oft-quoted figure of $70 million economic impact that the Blue Jays have during their six-week stay in Dunedin, a few eyeballs rolled:

    Things began to become a bit testy when team officials were raked over the coals because apparently they had not prepared the proper financial statements:

  In response, the Blue Jays reminded the board that Dunedin has been the only spring training home the team has ever known:

  In defending the Blue Jays, Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Buljaski noted that the team will assume maintenance costs for the facilities, which is something most teams don't do.  Still, the exchange between the team and the board became testy, with one member asking what the team will do if they don't get the necessary funding:

   Now, it is true that the economic impact of pro sports teams building new facilities may be very overestimated.  Stanford Professor Roger Noll published a landmark study which suggests that compared to, say, a shopping mall, stadiums do not create employment, local economic growth, or the incremental tax growth incurred to finance the stadium in order to overcome its cost.  Just the same, it's hard to see the team going anywhere anytime soon.  A source very close to the situation suggested that this hearing today was a very normal part of the process, and because there are only a few other much smaller proposals in front of the board for consideration, the Blue Jays' application will likely be approved.  The source also suggested that there may have been some bias against the team from several media sources present, who reported mostly the negative aspects of the hearing today.

   The Blue Jays and Pinellas County will resume talks next Wednesday, and while the team will still likely face some scrutiny from the board, Blue Jays fans should not necessarily be looking at Arizona real estate and airline prices just yet.  There is a lengthy history between the Blue Jays and Dunedin, and while there was some acrimony today, the deal is still expected to go through.

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