O's mull spring facility options

Fort Lauderdale financial crisis threatens to close club's Florida training site

Staying in South Fla. preferred

City commissioners want a 15-year commitment

O's lease expires April 30

February 19, 2004|By Roch Kubatko and Peter Schmuck | Roch Kubatko and Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Faced with a financial crisis that is threatening to close the Orioles' spring training facility, Fort Lauderdale city commissioners have decided to pursue a 15-year lease that would bind the team to the municipal stadium, which has been its spring home since 1996.

The Orioles' lease expires April 30, and they've been forced to consider other options for 2005 and beyond.

They met with officials in Winter Haven, Fla., two months ago to discuss the possible construction of a dual complex with the Cleveland Indians, and have been involved in negotiations with West Palm Beach on a similar project for the past few years. The Orioles also were contacted by officials in Port Charlotte, Fla., which has a vacancy after the Texas Rangers moved their spring site to Surprise, Ariz., last year.

Ownership prefers to keep the Orioles in South Florida, but apparently would have to match the state government's contribution toward the cost of any renovations to Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

"Fort Lauderdale is under serious consideration," said owner Peter Angelos, whose son, executive vice president John Angelos, attended Tuesday's meeting with the Fort Lauderdale officials. "We've been there for a substantial period of time. The players like it, the front office likes the location and it's very convenient for our fans. It's the most desirable location."

The city of Fort Lauderdale is having severe financial problems, costing some employees their jobs and forcing others to accept a six-day furlough. Officials offered to include the stadium, which lost approximately $300,000 last year, among their budget cuts rather than pour more money into the aging facility.

The Broward County Fair recently made a $100,000 proposal to manage the stadium, but city commissioners voted against it Tuesday because a major league team would be considerably more profitable for Fort Lauderdale.

A 15-year lease with the Orioles would be predicated on the team and the state legislature sharing the costs for renovating the stadium, which was built in 1961.

"I'm not ruling out that we'd make a contribution," Angelos said. "I don't know. That has yet to be determined."

Some improvements were made to the facility last year, including plumbing and electrical work, which increased the city's expenses. The Orioles contributed funds for a new roof and infield tarp and paid for new carpeting and chairs in the clubhouse.

With 52 acres at the stadium site, the Orioles could have a new clubhouse built - with more modern amenities - and additional practice fields that would allow them to move their minor league camp from Sarasota, Fla.

Because no minor league team uses the stadium, the city seeks additional revenue by making it available for high school games and tournaments, adult leagues, fantasy camps, charity events and church services. The adjacent parking lot is rented for driving and motorcycle classes.

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