WINTER PARK, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35 ORLANDO) -
The City of Winter Park, the Brevard County Manatees, and Rollins College have reached a tentative deal to bring the minor league baseball team to Winter Park, beginning with the 2016 season.
Mike Miller of Rollins College is spearheading the effort. He says Alfond Stadium, where Rollins currently plays, will be rebuilt into a 2,500 seat minor league stadium which the college and team will share.
"Enhancing our baseball stadium with the help of the community is only going to better our program and also better, you know having a professional baseball team will be a very exciting addition to our whole community."
The project will cost $33 million. Rollins will pay a little more than half, counting the donated land and just over $4 million in cash. Winter Park would be on the hook for $6 million -- one million already socked away in their Community Redevelopment Agency, plus another $5 million that would come from the CRA.
Winter Park City Manager Randy Knight says using the CRA will accomplish two important goals: economic development and improving parking, by adding a stadium garage.
"The economic study that we had done showed that this would generate $6 million of annual spending in the Winter Park area, not all of Winter Park, but within this region, this new money to the area. So, it's a very good investment for economic purposes, and with the parking garage associated, it also provides much needed parking relief."
Both the city and the college are excited about adding baseball. Knight says the fact that Orlando is the largest metro area in the nation without a team played a role in the city's decision to pursue a team.
"The Brevard Manatees are established. They already have some following. They believe that by moving it to Winter Park, the attendance would go up, maybe a thousand fans a game," Knight said.
The Manatees will be expected to contribute $2 million to the stadium reconstruction. The final $9 million will come from a federal tax credit called the "New Markets Tax Credit," a credit designed to help economic redevelopment in areas that need improvement. Miller says that, after more than 3 years of chasing the baseball dream in Winter Park, he is excited to try and finish this deal.
"When you go to a baseball stadium on a summer night and you see a professional team and these guys are out there working hard, and you see families having a great time together and not spending thousands of dollars, it's a magical place. I believe Winter Park is a magical place. Putting those two things together will make a wonderful opportunity."
There is still much more to be accomplished according to Knight. On Monday, city commissioners will ask the Orange County Commission to extend the life of the city's CRA five more years, to 2032, so that it can earn the $5 million the city plans to borrow to pay for the stadium renovation.
"To put it in a baseball analogy, I think we are rounding first right now. We got a long way to go to get to home plate, a lot of ways to get thrown out between now and then, but at least we are out of the batters box."
The plan is to have a full vote of the City Commission in August, then go through a planning and zoning phase with public input in the fall. Construction would be in 2015 with the team moving over for the 2016 season.
The Brevard County Manatees are owned and operated by Central Florida Baseball Group, LLC. The team is a member of the Florida State League and a Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Class A-Advanced consists of 30 teams from around the country and is one level below Double-A and two levels below Triple-A (the highest class in Minor League Baseball). The Manatees currently play their home games at Space Coast Stadium in Viera.
The Manatees did not respond in time for the publication of this story.