Orioles find new spring home

July 19, 1991|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Evening Sun Staff

The Orioles, a wealthy Florida businessman and a Minneapolis developer have signed an agreement to build a $15 million spring training facility near Naples, Fla., to be paid for, in part, by a South Florida tourism tax.

Orioles president Larry Lucchino yesterday detailed the site plan for a 7,000-seat stadium and training complex that could be ready as early as spring 1993. The complex will be located in southwest Florida's Collier County off Interstate 75.

Lucchino also announced an interim agreement with St. Petersburg, Fla., officials to share Al Lang Field with the St. Louis Cardinals for 10 to 14 exhibition games next spring. Early spring training will be held at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota.

The Orioles began searching for a new spring training home two years ago after club officials decided Miami Stadium was outdated.

The St. Petersburg agreement has an option for an additional year if the Naples complex is not finished. The agreement also gives the Orioles rights to play exhibition games in the Florida Suncoast Dome, a large stadium built in hopes of attracting a major-league team to the St. Petersburg area.

The Naples complex will be built by a joint venture of the Orioles, SCA Development Corp. and Florida businessman J.D. Nicewonder. The financing arrangements are complex.

Nicewonder, a Naples landowner who also has a home in Roanoke, Va., is donating the land for the project.

The joint venture will build the training complex with interim financing from SCA and then "donate" it to Collier County, Lucchino said.

Afterward, the county will assume responsibility for the permanent financing of the project through a 3 percent tax on hotel and motel rooms and seasonal rentals.

Lucchino declined to say how much money the Orioles or SCA Development Corp. are paying toward construction costs. But the net result is that Nicewonder, the Orioles and SCA assume the cost of the land and some of the upfront development costs, while the county pays for most of the construction.

Nicewonder and SCA, meanwhile, will have the right to develop the commercial portions of the property.

A lease between the ballclub and the county has not been HTC negotiated and no architect has been selected to design the spring training complex, which will include four minor-league practice fields, two major-league practice fields, a clubhouse and stadium, Lucchino said.

A site plan released yesterday shows a unique design that allows the 100-acre baseball complex to share space with public softball, soccer and picnic areas, which will be located on 150 additional acres at the site. The public parkland will be developed by the county.

The park includes 25 acres of wetlands and will contain a nature center and hiking paths. About 60 acres have been designated for commercial development. Lucchino said the development group will not be required to get environmental permits to build around the wetlands.

"A new state-of-the-art permanent spring training home will mean better preparation in the spring and, we believe, better performance during the season," Lucchino said. "We believe that this sort of stability and the quality of these facilities will have strong positive effects on the performance of our ballclub on the field."

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