To say the future of spring training for two teams and three cities will be determined in the next three days is an understatement, as Lee County officials debate an $80-million deal to keep the Boston Red Sox and Sarasota officials look for $10 million to close an $80-million deal for a downtown facility at Payne Park. Lurking in the shadows are the Baltimore Orioles, who may end up in Sarasota, Fort Myers or Vero Beach. Here are the various scenarios:
- The Boston Red Sox and Sarasota officials have been discussing a $70-million facility that includes a new ballpark in Payne Park -- the team's spring-training home during the Ted Williams era -- and a renovated training facility at the Ed Smith Stadium site. Currently Sarasota officials have identified $60 million in funding sources, leaving a gap of $10 million. There's been discussion of raising the county hotel tax by a penny to make up the difference. An October 29 county commission meeting will clarify the situation.
- As a backup plan, Sarasota officials have also discussed renovating Ed Smith Stadium for the Baltimore Orioles, who must vacate Fort Lauderdale Stadium and are looking for a new home. Renovation of Ed Smith Stadium would be the lower-cost option for the county, but the Orioles traditionally have not attracted the rabid spring-training fans found in Red Sox Nation. The Orioles have a history in Sarasota; their minor-league teams train at Twin Lakes Park. In theory, both the Sox and the O's could end up in Sarasota, but there doesn't appear to be enough money both for a new Red Sox ballpark and a renovated Ed Smith Stadium.
- Fort Myers officials are looking, and received initial approval, for a half-cent sales tax to fund an $80-million spring-training complex, preferably out in Bonita Springs or Estero. A Nov. 5 meeting will help clarify that situation, but there's some confusion as to exactly how close Lee County officials are to a plan: they have a set of conceptual drawings but no land, and no commitment from the Red Sox. Under one scenario, the Red Sox move to a new facility and the Orioles take up residence in City of Palms Park.
- Vero Beach officials have made a lot of noise in recent months about being close to a deal with the Baltimore Orioles, but it may take more than just a $12 million overhaul of Dodgertown -- like Vero Beach officials want -- to land the team. Holman Stadium is quaint and lovely, but it doesn't generate the income an MLB team expects.