FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Minnesota Twins want player dormitories and the rights to rename Hammond Stadium as part of deal in which Lee County could shell out more than $45 million for stadium upgrades, according to documents released Wednesday.
While the county reached a tentative lease agreement with the team last month, the contract failed to specify the county's financial obligations and other incentives.
Draft versions of the lease, however, reveal some of the sticking points and deal sweeteners that will have to be hammered out before the team is obligated to stay in town for another 30 years, Lee County Sports Authority Director Jeff Mielke said.
Whether the county will build facilities to house the team's Gulf Coast League players remains a point of contention, Mielke said.
The ballclub currently puts the players up in a local hotel from mid-March through late August. The low-level league develops rookies, many of whom are teenagers from outside the country.
The dormitories would be part of an estimated $7.2 million price tag for a "player development academy," according to the county document and Mielke.
Commissioners have privately told staff they're not interested in constructing dormitories for the team, Mielke said.
"Right now, as a philosophy issue and I know from the conversations we've had with elected officials, none of them are very supportive of that," Mielke said.
Twins spokesman Dustin Morse declined to comment, citing the "late nature" of the request.
While the team might not receive housing facilities, Mielke said the county will "unfortunately" have to let the team rename Hammond Stadium and keep the profits.
Under a similar agreement, the county allowed the Boston Red Sox to sell the naming rights to JetBlue Park. The team collected an undisclosed amount and the county receives about $150,000 a year from the airline to help pay for maintenance over the next eight years.
The Red Sox' spring home cost the county about $80 million to build.
"Because the Red Sox have the deal with their naming rights, it's pretty hard to tell the Twins, 'You can't do it that way,'" Mielke said.
Since county officials agreed to give millions of dollars in naming rights to the Red Sox, Commissioner Brian Bigelow said he's not surprised the Twins want the same thing.
"I think it's obvious they would want it, because it's a very lucrative asset to have hold of," Bigelow said. "And it tells me we really played the fool on the Red Sox deal."
Hammond Stadium is named after retired Deputy County Manager Bill Hammond, who abruptly left a commission meeting in May, ending his 34-year career.
Commissioners Ray Judah, Tammy Hall, John Manning and Frank Mann did not immediately return calls for comment.
Upgrades to Hammond Stadium - including the dormitories - will cost the county between $33 and $45 million or more, according to an improvement plan developed by the sports facility designer, Populous.
"It will fall somewhere in the middle, I'm sure," Mielke said.
Concessions, seating, player development and clubhouse upgrades are among the renovations up for discussion, according to county officials and documents.
With interest, financing the improvements could cost the county somewhere between about $62 and $92 million by the time bonds are paid off 30 years from now, according to county projections.
The debt will be paid by taxes levied against hotel rooms and rental properties, as well as up to $500,000 a year in rent from the Twins and another $500,000 a year the state is expected to kick in, according to county documents and officials.
But the county projections assume tourist tax revenues will increase by about 10 percent this year - the most ever collected, according to Assitant County Manager Pete Winton and documents. Winton said they're on pace to hit that mark.
Tax revenues would also have to increase by an average of 2 percent for 26 consecutive years starting in fiscal year 2016-17, according to county projections and Winton.
Bigelow said financing long-term, big-dollar debts on tourism taxes is a risky bet.
Once the economy and value of the U.S. dollar rebound, Bigelow said he suspects tourist taxes will level off or decrease, as many foreign tourists visit Southwest Florida to take advantage of the lucrative exchange rate.
At the same time, the value of the dollar and competition for tourists is increasing, he said the county will have to dip into the money it uses to promote tourism abroad or full-time residents will be left to pick up the tab for baseball.
"Baseball, and what we've paid, is just not affordable," Bigelow said. "The problem is that our tourism development and marketing will suffer, that or the board will have to pledge property taxes."
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