Will baseball project land on time? Ask overnight delivery tycoon


Houston Astros owner Jim Crane likes point out that he was able to purchase the Major League Baseball team a few a years ago because of his companies’ success in the overnight delivery business.

But his latest venture, a $135 million spring training complex south of 45th Street, will require the construction equivalent of getting built overnight if the Astros and Washington Nationals hope to meet a January 2017 deadline to play ball at the facility.

Crane said he’s still confident it can be done, even though ground has not been broken yet on the land, a former trash dump.

“It’s going to be tight,’’ he said Monday in an interview with The Palm Beach Post. “But I think everything is do-able. There’s a lot of push behind it and everybody wants to get it done.’’

That push was on full display Monday morning on the sixth floor of the Palm Beach County Governmental Center, where more than 50 local elected officials, dignitaries and business leaders gathered to watch Gov. Rick Scott pledge his support for the baseball project.

Scott sat down and, over a white plastic tablecloth stamped with the Astros’ and Nationals’ logos, signed a ceremonial version of a land-use law that freed up the final 27 acres at the south end of the 160-acre site between Haverhill Road and Military Trail.

“I’m in the overnight delivery business,’’ Crane said to the crowd just before Scott signed the document, “and I’ve learned in politics that things don’t move quite that fast, but this thing is going to get done.’’

Scott signed the actual bill into law on June 10 in Tallahassee. He did it again Monday because it marked his first visit with local elected officials in West Palm Beach since the state legislature approved the land-use change.

He also noted that the state has agreed to chip in $50 million to help finance the local baseball project as part of economics incentives package approved in 2013 by the state legislature. (Palm Beach County has pledged $113 million in hotel-tax revenue while the teams will pay for the remaining costs and any construction cost overruns.)

“We are continuing to look and see if we can recruit some teams back from Arizona. That’s why we have the money funded every year,’’ Scott told reporters after the ceremony.

“Teams love being in Florida but they need to have good facilities. We’ve got to keep working on that.’’

Fifteen of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams train in Florida’s Grapefruit League, with the rest training in Arizona’s Cactus League.

Crane credited Scott with helping reverse a recent trend of Grapefruit League teams, such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds, setting up camp in Arizona. The Astros and Nationals flirted with Arizona before agreeing in January to move to West Palm Beach for 30 years.

The county hopes the new West Palm Beach stadium will persuade the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals to extend their leases at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. Those leases are set to expire in 2027, but the county hopes they will stay at least until 2047, when the Astros’ and National’s leases in West Palm Beach expire.

The new Ballpark of the Palm Beaches — that’s the stadium’s tentative name until the naming rights are sold — will give the county four teams at two facilities within a 10-minute drive of each other.

“I’m in the overnight business,’’ Crane said to the crowd, “and I’ve learned in politics that things don’t move quite that fast, but this thing is going to get done.’’

The Palm Beach County Commission is expected to sign final documents on the project, including a land swap with the city of West Palm Beach, on Aug. 18.

The city commission is expected to vote on the same package Sept. 8. That vote would allow a formal ground breaking ceremony to be held sometime this fall.

“If we can get the ground broke by October, we should be good to open up in a year and half,’’ Crane told The Post. “The (construction) drawings are done, the bids are in.’’

Preliminary work on the project started in March, mainly environmental testing of the soil throughout the land, which was used as a landfill from the mid-1960s to 1996. The environmental work is still ongoing.

“We haven’t run into any major problems I know of up to this point,’’ Crane said. “We haven’t had any snags yet so hopefully the site is fine.’’

Meanwhile, Crane said he hopes baseball fans in Palm Beach County start following the Astros and Nationals. Both teams are in first place in their respective divisions.

“Washington was expected to win the most games in baseball,’’ Crane said. “We’ve been a little bit of a surprise. We think we will be in contention all year and hopefully we can get in the playoffs and maybe even play Washington (in the World Series). Who knows?’’


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