Secure the Reds
Vote to pass stadium referendum
Every spring legions of baseball fans await the return of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. That first game, that first pitch and that first swing - the excitement in the air is palpable.
From those first sounds of "The Star-Spangled Banner," spring training captures the mom, hot dogs and apple pie sentiment like no other sport.
We wouldn't want to lose that here.
We're blessed with two teams within a short drive. The Reds, though, are contending with a deficient facility, one that is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act nor the Florida Building Code for hurricane construction.
The baseball team and the city of Sarasota are asking voters to pass a $16 million bond referendum to help finance renovations of Ed Smith Stadium, with the total projected cost at $54 million. That total includes a $7.9 million state grant and $21.6 million from the county's tourist development tax. The referendum will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.
John Allen, chief operating officer for the Cincinnati Reds, downplays the one issue hanging over the bond referendum: Will the Reds leave town if they don't get stadium improvements? He says the team has never played that card, but with overtures from other Florida communities and Arizona cities, that is a very real concern.
Stadium renovations will not proceed if the bond issue is rejected. You can bet the Reds will entertain other cities' overtures.
Despite the widespread sentiment to chop already high property taxes, we urge voters to pass the referendum. It's a good deal for not just the city of Sarasota, but for the entire region.
• The Reds, like the Pirates, are an economic force in the community. In 2006, the city and county of Sarasota put the economic impact of Ed Smith Stadium at $60 million annually.
Allen estimates the Reds alone bring in about $40 million a year with both spring training and year-round expenses by staff. The team books 8,000 hotel room nights throughout the year, with visiting teams, tourists and fans flocking to Sarasota booking even more. Then there are the car rentals, restaurant tabs and entertainment expenses by those tourists.
The stadium also hauls in $20 million generated by baseball teams competing in state tournaments and Amateur Athletic Union events.
The Reds are pledging to stay in Sarasota for 30 years if the referendum passes and estimate that the economic impact over that time span amounts to $1.8 billion. "The economic impact is staggering," Allen told Herald reporter Stacey Eidson last week. "And to think that could hinge on a $16 million bond referendum blows my mind."
• The Reds will pony up $10 million toward the $54 million plan, no small commitment to Sarasota and the most ever by a team for a rebuilt facility, according to the Reds. The Pittsburgh Pirates paid nothing for this year's improvements to McKechnie Field and the rebuilding of the dormitory at Pirate City (but the team did pledge to a 30-year stay in Bradenton).
• The Reds will pay the city $1 to $2 from every ticket sold to go into a reserve fund to pay for future capital needs of the stadium.
• The team will pay for any cost overruns in the project.
• The new premiere field to be constructed on the stadium grounds will serve youth athletics and the greater community as well as home field for both Booker and Cardinal Mooney high school baseball programs.
• Ed Smith Stadium, which is owned by the city, is not just a Reds facility. It plays host to numerous cultural and civic events, including the Sarasota Blues Fest, Circus Sarasota, the Sarasota Firefighters' Benevolent Fund Rib Cook-off and the Sarasota Police Department Bike Rodeo. Improvements will benefit all.
Our beaches, sunshine and cultural treasures such as the Ringling Museum of Art all contribute to our quality of life. Spring baseball adds a vibrant element to that.
Passage of the referendum would ensure that for several generations.
The region's residents deserve that. Vote for the referendum.