The Reds’ exodus from its longtime Florida spring training home to Arizona was finalized on Monday evening, when the city of Goodyear agreed to finance a $33 million ballpark project.
The Reds will begin play in the Phoenix suburb in 2010. They will share the ballpark with the Indians, who just completed their final spring training in Winter Haven, Fla., but each team will have its own clubhouse and practice fields. The cost of the entire complex is estimated at $108 million.
The Reds certainly gave their best effort to stay in Sarasota, but once voters rejected a $54 million referendum to renovate 20-year-old Ed Smith Stadium, the Reds had little choice but accept a sweetheart of a deal in Goodyear. The Reds will pay $500,000 in annual rental fees for the new state-of-the-art complex, which will be a significant upgrade from the Reds’ aging complex in Sarasota. The Goodyear complex will feature six practice fields, team office space and a brand new ballpark (that they’ll share with the Indians).
"Even if the voters in Florida approved the $54 million, there’s really no comparison to a brand new facility," John Allen, who represented the Reds in negotiations with the city of Goodyear, told the Dayton Daily News. "What we’re getting in Arizona is better than what we had or would have in Florida."
The Reds were courted by Goodyear, a tactic questioned by some considering Goodyear’s pressing needs for a local library and water-treatment plant. However Goodyear council members assured that funds for local projects can be provided in addition to the stadium costs. The city should also receive a significant boost from the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, which is currently tapped out of funds and cannot immediately contribute, but may be able to cover two-thirds of the project’s cost once it receives more money down the road.
The Reds’ pending move, combined with the Indians’ and Dodgers’ cross-country shift next spring, continues the trend of teams shifting from the Grapefruit to the Cactus League. The Reds’ arrival in Arizona will create an equal split of teams between Arizona and Florida, and create the possibility of the Cactus League out-drawing the Grapefruit League for the first time. Florida spring training sites outdrew those in Arizona by 22 percent this year. The Grapefruit League’s 18 teams attracted 1.68 million fans this spring and set a record for average attendance of 6,478 in 259 games.
There was some hope that the Reds could remain in Florida even if they left Sarasota. The Dodgers historic spring training grounds in Vero Beach is in need of a tenant beginning in 2009—the Orioles, also on the market for a new home if the renovation of its current training grounds in St. Petersburg falls through, is considered a front-runner to move to Vero Beach.
There was a feeling in Sarasota that the Reds were merely bluffing, and would never actually leave town. Now that the bluff has been called, Sarasota is left to ponder what to do next. They’ll begin by courting a new major league team and hopefully continue with its plans to renovate Ed Smith Stadium.
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