The multimillion-dollar taxpayer bill for spring training costs in Lee County just got $15 million lighter.
Lee County may receive a maximum of $15 million over 30 years for renovation of the Minnesota Twins spring training home at the Lee County Sports Complex and Hammond Stadium.
Oddly enough, although located in Lee County, Boca Grande baseball fans are closer to the Charlotte County spring training home of the Tampa Bay Rays in Charlotte Sports Park. Charlotte did not receive any funding.
The Florida Sports Foundation and Department of Economic Opportunity said Monday that Lee County has been certified under the Spring Training Baseball Franchise Program, which gives state matching funds to local governments that own or operate stadiums.
The money is designed to help with renovation or construction costs involving spring training facilities
"The state of Florida strives to work hand-in-hand with the communities hosting spring training baseball to retain the teams which provide an economic boost to the state," said John Webb, Florida Sports Foundation president. ".With the long-term lease signed by the Twins with Lee County, we look forward to seeing Twins in an improved facility in Lee County for years to come."
Lee County's application was OK'd by the Florida Sports Foundation before approval by DEO. Criteria included length of time the existing franchise has been located in the state, length of time the facility has been used by one or more spring training franchise, duration of the future-use agreement with the spring training franchise and the amount of the local match.
"This partnership is one example of Florida's unified statewide economic vision paying dividends for a community like Lee County," said DEO Executive Director Hunt Deutsch. "I am thrilled to see a potential increased economic impact of $15 million infused into the region, which will lead to growth and investment for years to come."
The Twins have signed a 30-year agreement with Lee County, which extends their lease through 2042. Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers has been the spring training home for the Twins since 1991.
The team has held spring training in Florida since 1936, when it was the Washington Senators. Camp was based in Orlando from 1936-42 and 1946-90 before moving to Lee County.
"In these tough economic times we appreciate this financial assistance from the state," said Karen Hawes, Lee County manager. "This funding will provide jobs in our community and provide the renovations needed to improve the current facility for the Minnesota Twins."
Spring training is a Florida tradition that generates significant economic impact. During the 2012 Florida spring training season, an estimated 1.6 million fans watched the 15 teams in the Grapefruit League, which set a per game record of 6,965 fans per game, surpassing the previous per game average high of 6,640, set in 2010.