Stadium price tag rising; teams want to start work next week

The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals want to start clearing debris and trees next week from an old landfill south of 45th Street, kicking off work on a spring training facility the teams hope to open in 2017, an official said Friday.

But the price tag for the project is going up, even though no dirt has been moved yet on the 160-acre site.

The teams have revised the project’s budget to $144.1 million, about $9 million more than the budget approved in August by Palm Beach County commissioners, and are hinting that it could go even higher. Construction is expected to account for $109.4 million, with designs, furnishings and permitting accounting for most of the rest.

The Astros and Nationals will pay for the increases, raising the total amount of the teams’ contribution to at least $76 million. The amount of public money will not increase.

“We’re having to come out of pocket,’’ said Giles Kibbe, general counsel for the Astros, who attributed some of the increased costs to higher-than-expected construction bids and land-preparation costs.

The rising costs are not a big surprise since the teams told the West Palm Beach City Commission last month that they were having budget issues. The teams are responsible for all cost overruns exceeding $135 million.

“It’s not something we’re excited about,” Kibbe said. “But we want this place to be something the county is proud of and is good for both teams, so it is costing us a little extra.’’

The teams already agreed to pay $67 million overall in annual installments over 30 years. The total costs, including debt services, is expected to be $232.9 million before the cost increase. The rest of the debt service will be paid with $116 million from a county hotel tax and $50 million from the state.

The County Commission is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a series of items that will allow the teams to start work on a project that will mark the return of spring training to West Palm Beach for the first time since 1997.

The main vote will be the issuance of construction bonds. Since it could take another month before the Astros and Nationals get money from the bond sale, the teams plan to spend several million dollars of their own money to get started next week, Kibbe said.

The commission also will vote to formally close on a land swap with West Palm Beach that would give the county ownership of the 160-acre site between Haverhill Road and Military Trail. The closing is contingent on the county receiving by Oct. 30 a certification letter from the state committing to its $50 million contribution.

The bond issue vote also is contingent on the county receiving the state certification letter by Oct. 30.

“If we get approvals (from the county), we’re going to go ahead and start next week,’’ Kibbe said.

County officials are confident they will get the letter from the State Department of Economic Opportunity this month, but they thought they would have had it sooner.

“I’ve even asked (county staff) ‘What’s the hold up?’’’ County Administrator Verdenia Baker said.

State officials are being careful with language in the agreement, Baker said, because it’s the first two-team deal the state has done with baseball teams since Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation last year offering incentives to help save spring training in Florida.

A breakdown of the $109.4 million in construction costs was not available Friday. But it includes about $20 million for clearing debris and preparing the land for “vertical construction,” officials have said.

Other expenses include $13 million for designs and consultants and $4 million for permitting and inspection fees. The design fees for the architectural firm, HKS, are $11.3 million.

URS Corp, the teams’ environmental consultant, is listed at $1.1 million, while local land-planning firm Urban Design Kilday Studios is listed at $189,500.

County staff had expressed concern that “the magnitude of overruns” could cause the Astros and Nationals to cut corners on areas of the spring training complex accessed by the public as opposed to areas and improvements used by the teams, according to a county memo.

But, the memo said, county officials are satisfied that based on county design standards “and the detailed information already in hand,” the “integrity of the public use improvements” will be maintained.

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