Vero Beach, Fla., and Indian River County officials are hopeful that Orioles owner Peter Angelos and the team's upper management will meet as early as next week and approve an agreement that would make Dodgertown the team's long-term spring training home starting in 2010.
Representatives from the Orioles and Indian River County and Vero Beach spent Wednesday and Thursday meeting in Orlando, Fla., trying to complete a deal that has been discussed for more than a year. A negotiation agreement between the Orioles and the county expired yesterday, but government officials are prepared to give the team time to review the offer.
"We have made them our final offer," Vero Beach Mayor Tom White said yesterday. "After many hours of discussion and changing this and changing that, I'm hoping that Mr. Angelos and the board of directors will accept it. I think it's a good offer and they'll be happy here."
Orioles executive vice president John Angelos, who is heading the organization's search for a long-term spring training home, hasn't returned calls this week. Director of communications Greg Bader said the team wouldn't be commenting on the matter.
The Orioles have long maintained they are committed to staying in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the club has trained since 1996. They will be back in Fort Lauderdale again in February, but barring a significant change in the coming months, it could be their last training camp there.
The Orioles had planned to tear down and rebuild 48-year-old Fort Lauderdale Stadium and create a complex that would house their major and minor league spring training camps. However, in May, the Federal Aviation Administration notified Fort Lauderdale that it wouldn't approve the use agreement between the city and the Orioles unless the annual payments made to the airport fund increased to $1.3 million. FAA approval was needed because the stadium sits adjacent to an executive airport.
"We've met with the Orioles on several different occasions, and they haven't indicated to us that they want to be anywhere else, so that's good," said Chaz Adams, a spokesman for the city of Fort Lauderdale. "All the players are still onboard. We're just hoping and trying as hard as we can to see if we could get the FAA to change its mind."
If it doesn't, the Orioles have some options. Vero Beach, the celebrated home of the Dodgers for 61 years dating to when the franchise was in Brooklyn, became open when the Dodgers terminated their facility use agreement and moved their spring training home to Glendale, Ariz., starting in 2009.
Sarasota, Fla., the location of the Orioles' minor league complex, will also become vacant when the Cincinnati Reds relocate to Arizona in 2010. Orioles and Sarasota officials have had general discussions about a move to Ed Smith Stadium.
"We're ready to talk to the Orioles about their [major league] spring training site if they are ready to talk to us," Sarasota County Deputy Administrator David Bullock said.
Sarasota was hoping to lure the Boston Red Sox from their site in Fort Myers, Fla. However, this week, the Lee County commission approved an agreement with the Red Sox to build a new spring training facility in south Lee County. If the Red Sox approve the deal, that would leave their current facility at City of Palms Park needing a tenant. Fort Myers officials are reportedly interested in talking to the Orioles.
Indian River County officials are aware the Orioles have other suitors but are optimistic the team will choose Vero Beach. Both sides have been mum about the particulars of the possible agreement, though the Vero Beach Press Journal reported it is believed the Orioles are asking for up to $13 million of improvements to Holman Stadium and use of 37.6 acres that once housed the Dodgertown Golf Course.
"Everybody kind of walked away [from this week's meetings] saying it was a pretty fair and reasonable offer," Indian River County commissioner Peter O'Bryan said. "Now it's up to the team and its representatives to take it back to the owner. I don't think it's going to be months and months."