Gov. Rick Scott is proposing a $5 million annual fund aimed at renovating stadiums and keeping Major League Baseball teams in Florida for spring training.
Scott unveiled the plan Wednesday during a stop at the Detroit Tigers' spring facility in Lakeland. The funds would be used only for spring training facilities, Scott's office said, and local governments would be required to match at least 50 percent of project costs.
State contributions would be capped at $20 million, and the Department of Economic Opportunity would review and approve the match "to ensure it provides a return on investment for taxpayers," Scott's office said.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, celebrating their 45th spring in Bradenton, unveiled a $7.5 million renovation to McKechnie Field last week that they hope will be a hit with residents and visitors.
"We have been fortunate to have been able to forge meaningful public/private partnerships that have allowed us to build and update outstanding Major League facilities in Bradenton," said Pittsburgh Pirates President Frank Coonelly. "Each of the two major projects that we completed over the last six years was done primarily with local companies and local workers and resulted in other economic development in the community."
Scott said the initiative fits with his goal of growing jobs in Florida. "We must protect and enhance this vital business for Florida families," he said.
Fifteen of MLB's 30 teams train in Florida each spring, with the other half operating in Arizona. Since 1998, six clubs have moved west from Florida, according to MLB.com, including the Cincinnati Reds, who left Sarasota in 2008. The Baltimore Orioles moved into Ed Smith Stadium in 2010.
Three teams' Florida leases are up for renewal in 2016, with two more to follow in 2017, FloridaToday reports.
More than 1.5 million fans attend spring training games in Florida each year, providing a $750 million benefit to the state each year, according to the governor's website.
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