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O's Fla. project gets state funds

The Baltimore Sun

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- The state of Florida has agreed to grant Fort Lauderdale $15 million over 30 years to help the Orioles overhaul Fort Lauderdale Stadium for spring training, the Florida Sports Foundation announced yesterday.

The grant of state sales tax rebate dollars is the final piece the team needed to pay for the $40 million project, which includes baseball diamonds and soccer fields that will be open for public use.

"That's encouraging to have such a quick approval of the state portion," Orioles executive vice president John Angelos said. "Now we have to sit down with all the financial people and the city and see what the next steps are."

Under the terms of the agreement, which includes a 15-year lease and three five-year options, the state grant will be combined with Broward County's contribution of $24 million in hotel bed taxes over 30 years. The team will pick up the rest and all other costs, including interest, insurance and any overruns. The city, which is contributing the land, will be responsible only for maintaining the recreational fields, if it chooses to use them.

The 45-year-old, 8,340-seat Fort Lauderdale Stadium is to be stripped to its steel structure and upgraded with 7,000 fixed seats and grass berms with room for 2,000 fans. The state, county and team dollars will cover the cost of bonds the city will issue for the project sometime between April and July. A construction schedule has not yet been determined.

Revamping the sports complex is moving ahead despite objections from the Broward School Board, which has a lease to operate the adjacent Lockhart Stadium for high school football games and soccer matches through October 2008.

Lockhart will eventually be torn down to make room for new baseball diamonds and soccer fields. The Orioles, who will hold their 12th spring training in Fort Lauderdale next month, have said high school games can be played in a newly renovated Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Mayor Jim Naugle, who has supported keeping spring training in Fort Lauderdale, said he wanted to keep the property for a recreational use rather than commercial uses for Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport next door.

The state also wants to preserve spring training, which it says brings thousands of tourists and pumps $450 million into Florida's economy each year. To prevent major league baseball teams from fleeing to Arizona for spring training, the Legislature last spring set aside $75 million in sales tax rebate dollars to be used by up to five communities with aging spring training stadiums.

Sarah Talalay writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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