Toytown plan includes Braves spring training field

A redevelopment team proposes building a $662 million athletic complex on the 240 acre site of the old Toytown landfill called SportsPark. 

A spring training facility for the Atlanta Braves would be the centerpiece, yet only a fraction of the overall project. 

In addition to a 10,000 seat Major League Baseball stadium there would be a 3,000 seat baseball stadium and nearly 20 other baseball diamonds.  A separate 20,000 seat stadium could accommodate soccer, track and field events.  There would also be 20 multi-sport fields, 18 sand volleyball courts and an aquatics center.

Principal partners include the Braves, The Gary Sheffield Foundation, and Echelon, a Pinellas-based developer.  None of the parties would comment publicly Tuesday, but Pinellas county administrator Mark Woodard told FOX 13 News he wants to ask county commissioners for direction early next month.  By October 6th Woodard wants to be able to present commissioners with a list of the big issues that have to be resolved.

Money may be at the top of the list.  The documents submitted by SportsPark Partners refer to a county contribution ranging from $4 million to $10 million a year, but does not state for how many years.  That would be in addition to $2 million a year provided to professional sports franchises by the state.  Woodard confirmed the county could get its money from its tourism tax. 

However, Dunedin is expected to ask for bed tax revenue for a new Toronto Blue Jays spring training facility.  St. Petersburg will also need county bed tax revenue if the Tampa Bay Rays decide to build a new stadium in Pinellas.  A commitment to the SportsPark project would significantly reduce revenues available for other projects.

There are also questions surrounding the use of an old landfill for sports fields.  There are liabilities associated with that, and the development proposal leaves that liability to the county.  Two other teams submitted other concepts for the Toytown property, but Woodard said there were different concerns about those, so SportsPark was ranked number one by a review committee.

A green light by Pinellas county commissioners to continue negotiations will leave the project on a fast track.  A letter from the Atlanta Braves expresses "significant interest" in the project and in relocating its spring training to Pinellas from the Orlando area.  The letter proposes striking a deal by the end of this year so construction can start next year and be finished in time for the 2018 spring training season.