The Baltimore Orioles' search for a permanent spring-training home may be ending soon.
The Orioles apparently cleared a major hurdle in the planning of a new training complex yesterday when they reached tentative agreement with a corporate partner that would provide the land for the much-delayed project in Naples, Fla.
The Orioles plan to announce their partnership with Florida Rock, a supplier of construction materials, at a news conference in Naples on Monday, according to Orioles officials who asked not to be identified.
The Orioles could move into a new complex by spring 1993 if the deal then is approved by the Collier County commissioners, the team officials said. The price is expected to be $15 million to $18 million, of which the Orioles apparently would contribute little if any.
Last September, voters in Collier County, where Naples is situated, approved a 3 percent tourist tax to finance construction of a spring-training complex. But the plan collapsed when a third partner, USF&G;, a Baltimore-based insurance holding company, withdrew its offer to purchase the real estate for the Orioles' spring home, which also would have included a golf course, recreational areas and, possibly, commercial development.
Ever since, the Orioles have been looking for a partner to replace USF&G.;
The agreement with Florida Rock, though incomplete, apparently calls for the company to provide 310 acres, about 85 acres of which would be used for the baseball complex. Such a training camp probably would include a stadium seating 6,000 to 7,000 and an additional five or six practice fields.
This year, the Orioles' spring headquarters is in Sarasota, Fla., at Twin Lakes Park, which has several practice fields but no stadium to play games in. The Orioles have played all of their Grapefruit League games on the road, traveling a minimum of 45 minutes every time. The arrangement has cut down on the time " players have been able to devote to workouts and caused some grumbling among them.
The land offered by Florida Rock is 3 miles east of the 445-acre site where the complex was planned when USF&G; was a partner.
The Orioles have been looking at Naples as a possible spring-training home for more than a year, and there have been successes and setbacks along the way. Last September, prospects were good for completing the complex by spring training of 1992. Collier County voters had overwhelmingly approved a 3 percent bed tax, with 1 cent of each dollar committed to paying off the debt for building the complex.
The Orioles actively campaigned for the tourist tax, which will be paid mostly by hotel guests and other visitors.
But the optimism that followed approval of the tax was --ed when USF&G; dropped out. That followed a series of financial reversals at the company that resulted in the appointment of a new chairman who cut expenses.
The Orioles have held their early spring workouts at Twin Lakes Park for three years, but only this year have they been without a home stadium. The team had played its home games for 31 years in Miami.