The city council on Thursday night directed the city manager to end all work on the 117th Court North site as a spring training baseball complex, acting to ease the minds of residents who protested that the proposed facility would add noise and traffic to their neighborhoods.
The motion by council member Joe Russo in a city hall auditorium packed with 250 people, passed 4-1 with council member David Levy in the minority. Opponents of the stadium location, wearing red shirts, gave Russo a standing ovation.
The motion called on the city to help Palm Beach County with information in the county’s efforts to find a new location for the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays. If anything else is proposed for the site, “it comes to the city council first,” Russo said, so that residents know about it “and until then can go home and sleep at night.”
The proposal has overshadowed all other community issues in the city for months, and continues to color the political landscape, with three council members facing challengers in the March elections.
Challengers Michael Peragine, Robin Deaton and Kevin Easton all attended the meeting, as did others of prominence, including County Commissioner Hal Valeche, who has taken the lead in the location search for the county now that the city has formally passed the baton. Also in the well-mannered crowd: Former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, former county commissioner Karen Marcus, and even the brother of Vice President Joe Biden, Frank Biden, a Palm Beach County resident who accompanied Peragine.
Even opponents of the Gardens location said they hoped to keep spring training baseball in the county, but urged that alternate locations be found.
“We are not prepared to impose a facility in the midst of a small community, utilizing schools as buffers, and, devastate the lives of fellow citizens,” Old Palms resident Larry Brown told the council. Brown, a former Economic Council chairman, said it was the county’s responsibility to keep spring training baseball, not the city’s, as the county has a bigger budget.
“It was a good day for baseball and a good step,” he said of the vote. “The county now is in charge.”
But supporters of the site, including co-founder Tom Cairnes of the PGA Corridor Association, said the city was missing out on a great economic opportunity and a complex with baseball fields that could be used in the off-season by local youths.
“It was a bad day for baseball,” said developer Joel Channing, also a co-founder of the association. “We can be certain that we won’t reap the benefits to our youth athletics programs that would have resulted from having 12 free additional baseball and soccer fields.”
Council member Marcie Tinsley, who seconded the motion against the Gardens site, said the decision showed “the process worked.”
“We listened to residents and took their input seriously. We had to take the time to consider the significant issues at hand.”
Russo said he moved to eliminate the site from contention because, as a result of confidentiality requirements surrounding the projects, residents were brought into the process too late and opposition was too strong to weigh the negatives and positives through discussion.
At the end of the day, he said before calling the vote, “every time we’ve done something in this city, we’ve had a partnership with our residents. They are our shareholders.”