The new deal for Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium upgrades shaved $3 million off the cost of the total project from $111 million to $108 million.
WEST PALM BEACH — Palm Beach County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously agreed to help fund upgrades to Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, two weeks after directing staff to get a better deal.
The new deal shaved $3 million off the cost of the total project from $111 million to $108 million, reduced the county’s annual contributions for the first nine years and requires some of the bonds issued to be tax exempt to “maximize construction proceeds.”
Proposed improvements that were cut included signage and landscape at the entrance, a first-base group area, elevated seating decks in the outfield and a 360-degree concourse.
Palm Beach County will use tourism tax dollars specifically dedicated to infrastructure to contribute $75.1 million over 25 years. The state’s contributions, if approved, will be $50 million.
Roger Dean stadium’s spring training residents, the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, have been eyeing upgrades to improve the fan and player experience. Even Jim Crane, owner of the Houston Astros, who play at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, wrote a letter of support.
“The Astros believe that such an investment is great for tourism. It will not only increase tourism in Jupiter, it will increase tourism throughout Palm Beach County,” Crane wrote. “And, it will get us much closer to completing the vision of making Palm Beach County the best spring training destination in the country.”
Some commissioners had concerns that the county’s investments in the stadium and convention center could limit funding tourism projects in the future, particularly in the districts in the south and west. Glenn Jergensen, executive director of the Tourist Development Council, said “there’s maneuvering that we can certainly prioritize things” should a project come up, yet projects using tourism tax dollars require an economic impact study.
But even Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who said the investment would take away from supporting equestrian tourism in her district, changed her tune.
“I don’t want to risk losing baseball and spring training in South Florida. It’s too important,” she said. “I also don’t want to see baseball in the state of Florida hurt because of the number of teams in the state started to dwindle.”
County Administrator Verdenia Baker said it was difficult to know what tourism tax projects the county could fund in the future without a solid list of potential projects, but assured commissioners that their projections were conservative and reserves wouldn’t be depleted.
“We don’t come to this board lightly with recommendations to invest these bed tax dollars,” she said.
But the plans still hinge on one agreement: the teams and the town of Jupiter must agree on parking improvements, for which the town is responsible.
“There is a term in the agreement that allows the teams to terminate and not move forward with it if they are unable to reach an agreement on parking,” said Audrey Wolf, director of the county’s facilities development and operations department.
Jupiter Mayor Todd Wodraska acknowledged the town’s parking issues, saying they were in talks with the teams, and promoted the importance of improving Roger Dean stadium.
“Spring training in February and March is obviously the big-ticket draw. We see kind of the surge of red from St. Louis Cardinals fans coming into the area,” Wodraska said. “But in the Jupiter community, what we really experience is the tournaments, the Grapefruit Leagues, the minor league teams.”
Officials marketed the investment as saving spring training in South Florida.
“If this stadium were to go and not have four teams to be able to play each other, I think we would jeopardize the whole MLB spring training activities on the East Coast,” Jergensen said.
Commissioner Gregg Weiss expressed how important baseball was to him, saying his father would take him to Palm Springs in California to watch spring training.
“Having that opportunity to be around spring training and participate in little league, it was an important part of my life, and I think to take that and to lose that or have the potential of losing that in Palm Beach County is not something I take lightly,” he said.