The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals have halted plans for a $100 million upgrade to their spring training facility in Jupiter.
But to the fans and community, the teams say not to worry. They say they are simply pausing to regroup and reassess their needs, wants and the cost of the project.
“Both teams like where we are. The county and the state and the town all like us and want us to stay. There’s no reason to panic on this issue for people that love coming to the Jupiter area for spring training,” Bill DeWitt III, president of the Cardinals, told The Palm Beach Post on Thursday.
Jupiter Mayor Todd Wodraska said spring training baseball is a vital part of Abacoa and the town is committed to keeping it there.
“We’re hopeful that this delay isn’t anything more than that, just a delay,” he said.
The Marlins and the Cardinals have a lease to use the county-owned Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium through 2027. The renovation would have extended the lease until 2047.
DeWitt estimated it could be a year before the plans get back on track. He said there is no immediate pressure to meet a deadline because the lease doesn’t expire for nine years.
The stadium renovation plan the teams presented in May to the county’s Tourist Development Council included an overhaul of the clubhouses, offices, training areas and public spaces. It also sought to expand the team store; add more batting tunnels, agility fields and Wi-Fi for fans; and provide a new scoreboard and more shaded seating areas.
The missing element, DeWitt said, was additional parking. He said that’s an issue in an area that is constantly growing and will have to be addressed.
The project depends on money from the county and the state, with a portion paid from both teams.
Jupiter officials said they contemplated making a financial contribution toward a parking garage or giving money to the teams. But a formal vote had yet to take place, Wodraska said.
While the teams hoped to get as much as $50 million from the state over a 25-year period, the request from the county is unknown.
A county allocation would come from tourism taxes. The county collects about $50 million a year from a 6 percent bed tax levied on hotel stays and vacation rentals.
Tourism leaders are exploring an expansion of the Palm Beach County Convention Center in downtown West Palm Beach, which could cost $100 million. That expansion and the stadium renovation could leave the county struggling to pay for other tourism-generating projects that might be brought forward over the next two decades, some tourist council members feared.
DeWitt said Thursday that the formula of who would pay what for the stadium upgrade hadn’t been worked out.
“It was starting to get to where our goals for the project weren’t going to be able to be achieved,” DeWitt said.
The tourist council did not vote on the request and planned to discuss it at a workshop. Its recommendation would be given to the county commission, which would ultimately make the decision. But once county staff received notice of the stall on July 2, the council removed the topic from Thursday’s workshop agenda and from the July 24 county commission workshop, according to documents.
“We look forward to resuming the conversations with the (tourism council) and the county as soon as possible,” said Jason Latimer, the Marlins’ vice president of communications and outreach.
Commissioner Hal Valeche, whose district includes Abacoa, said not to “read too much” into the delay.
“I think we are committed as a county to keeping the Cardinals and Marlins here and like in any negotiation, both parties want the same outcome, so I think we will get there,” he said.
Valeche said county staff and the teams will likely discuss the scope of the expansion project in detail because of the “finite supply” of bed tax money.
But the 7,000-seat stadium is said to need an upgrade to remain competitive. It opened in 1998 and has never had a major renovation, county officials said.
Palm Beach County is also the spring training home for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. They play at the Fitteam Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, a $150 million facility that opened in 2017 on a former landfill. It was financed in part with $113 million from the county tourism tax and $50 million from the state. The teams’ leases expire in 2047.
Attendance at both stadiums was 281,412 this past spring. At Roger Dean, the 45-day spring training period attracted 139,478 fans.
Claude Delorme, executive vice president of operations and events for the Marlins, previously said Roger Dean’s basic systems, including its plumbing lines, are in need of significant upgrades.
“Understand if we leave the building the way it is, it is going to cost everyone a lot more,” Delorme said. “Leaving it as it is will become a problem.”
DeWitt said the next steps are tightening the budget, continuing parking discussions and getting everyone on the same page — the teams, the county, the tourism council, the state and Jupiter.
“Everybody is intent on solving these problems. I think a little time needs to pass before we’re ready to get back at it again,” he said.