Funding reversal may put O's on road for new spring home

December 21, 2006|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN REPORTER

The Orioles are 3 1/2 months away from opening the 2007 season in Minnesota, but they've already been thrown a curve.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla., city commissioners reversed an earlier decision Tuesday night and declined to support funding necessary to upgrade the local baseball stadium, which could lead the Orioles to find a new spring training home for 2008.

The Orioles moved into Fort Lauderdale Stadium in 1996, and their agreement ends after 2007, at which time they could relocate to another Florida city or move to Arizona, a location that has become more desirable to some teams in recent years.

The Orioles haven't given up hope, however, that a deal can be worked out in Fort Lauderdale.

"It's our position that we're still working toward, hopefully, an agreement within the time frame that's been set," executive vice president John Angelos said. "We're still endeavoring to make that happen. Nothing has really changed in regard to our commitment to do that."

The sudden reversal was curious, because city commissioners pledged $240,000 a year for 30 years toward the project in September. But they voted 3-2 against spending $150,000 a year to help pay off the bonds.

According to published reports, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle and Vice Mayor Cindi Hutchinson gave their approval. Commissioners Carlton Moore, Christine Teel and Charlotte Rodstrom voted against it.

The Orioles were counting on the city's assistance toward a $48 million plan to upgrade the 45-year-old stadium and demolish Lockhart Stadium, which is next to the baseball complex, to provide additional practice fields.

If an agreement can't be reached, the city will forfeit $15 million in state sales tax rebates set aside by the Florida legislature as a means of encouraging five teams, including the Orioles, to maintain their spring bases in Florida. A deal must be signed by Dec. 28, five days before the Florida Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development will decide which communities receive the state funding.

For Tuesday's result to be reversed, either Moore, Teel or Rodstrom would have to call for another meeting. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Rodstrom said she would consider such a move and arranged to speak with an Orioles official. The club hopes the meeting will take place as early as Tuesday.

If the Orioles leave Fort Lauderdale, the city would be responsible for the stadium's $500,000 annual maintenance fee, which could lead to its demolition.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel contributed to this article.

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