The Jays’ proposed move to a new Palm Beach Gardens site for Spring Training that will be shared with the Houston Astros is in limbo. I’ve been a little behind on this one, as the first signs of trouble for the site came last month. Brian McTaggart reported then for MLB.com that “is being reconsidered after the city agreed to allow Palm Beach County officials to investigate whether another location would better suit the city, county and teams.”
At the time, McTaggart continued:
Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe, who has been Astros owner Jim Crane’s point man in the effort to move the team’s Spring Training facility from Kissimmee, Fla., said the project was still moving forward but that the city wanted to give the county an opportunity to find out if another location would work out just as well. The focus, Kibbe said, was still on having Spring Training baseball on Florida’s East Coast.
This, however, no longer appears to be the case, as late last week, according to the Palm Beach Post, the city council of Palm Beach Gardens passed a motion end all construction on the site, after complaints from locals about stadium noise and traffic.
Evan Drelich of the Houston Chronicle adds that three of the council members who participated in the 4-1 vote against the project are up for reelection in March, “ and the proposed stadium has played a significant role in the races.” He reports that Councillor Joe Russo characterized it as “an issue that’s dividing the city.”
So… Dunedin, then?
For a lot of people — though few who work for the Jays, I suspect — the renewed possibility is probably a nice one, given the team’s long ties with the area, and the memories and relationships that have grown over the years. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
“I would hope that Mr. Crane would give Palm Beach County six months to find him another site,” said Russo, who tabled the motion, in a clip available at the Post.
An earlier piece from the Post explains that “Palm Beach County will ‘cast a wide net’ in its search for a spring training site for the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays — including asking St. Lucie County if it might have room for two more baseball teams.
A wide net seems necessary, as administrators suggest the project would be in for a fight regardless of which of the city’s neighbourhoods was selected for the site. The Post continues:
Valeche said he hoped to meet with St. Lucie officials within the next week. Asked whether St. Lucie had the money for another baseball complex — the New York Mets have a stadium in St. Lucie West, just north of the Tradition development — Valeche said every government has spending constraints.
“That will be an issue with them or us,” he said.
“The overall goal is, to keep baseball here in Southeast Florida we’ve got to find the best solution and that involves casting a pretty wide net.”
I’m not sure if spring baseball in the region is really on such tenuous ground, but it’s not as healthy as on the other side of the state, where new facilities for the Red Sox and Phillies have opened in the last decade. The newest site on the Atlantic coast opened in 1998, and with only the Mets, Nationals, Marlins, and Cardinals over there, the lure of other regions may prove strong for them without a couple more teams able to travel there more conveniently.
In fact, according to another piece from the Houston Chronicle’s Ultimate Astros blog, “the Astros are ‘absolutely’ going to again look into a move to Arizona,” according to the club’s lawyer. This, of course, is all part of the gamesmanship that always goes on when clubs are looking to extract public money for these sorts of projects, and playing one county off of another, but that we’re back to this kind of stage isn’t exactly the best development for those with dreams of an ultra-modern facility to watch Jays Spring Training games in– or those with the club and the media who, for all of Dunedin’s somewhat anachronistic charms, are ready to be done with the bus rides back and forth between Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and the team’s minor league complex.
I’d figure that given the issues with the facilities there the Jays are still one of the better candidates to make the move across the state, but for now, it’s almost like we’re back at square one. Or… actually I can only really just guess what square one felt like, given that the club didn’t let the public in on any of their plans to switch sites until the very end of the process (and even then, not until the Astros outed them). But I suspect this is pretty close.