Fort Lauderdale decision looming

The Baltimore Sun

Almost two months after the Orioles expected to gain approval to begin construction of a new spring training complex in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., they appear to be drawing closer to a resolution.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman confirmed this week that officials are reviewing documents submitted by the city of Fort Lauderdale, which could be the final step in making a decision. The Orioles want to tear down and rebuild 48-year-old Fort Lauderdale Stadium, which has served as their spring home since 1996, but they need the FAA's consent because it sits on airport property.

A source familiar with the process said a decision is expected by the end of the month and could arrive sooner.

City officials and the Orioles agreed to a $38 million plan in December 2006 that also would include demolishing the adjacent soccer stadium and creating more fields so the minor league complex can be moved out of Sarasota, Fla.

"We love having the team here and they've honored all their commitments, and we're hoping it will be a long relationship," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle said. "We've been working on this for over a year, and hopefully we'll hear something soon."

The Orioles' agreement with Fort Lauderdale runs through next year and includes a club option for 2010. They've already signed a 15-year lease with a 15-year option, but everything is predicated on the FAA's ruling.

The land was given to the city to use for aviation and requires permission from the FAA to use for recreational purposes.

"We're hoping the FAA makes the right decision and honors their past commitments," Naugle said. "They said they didn't have a problem with the stadium. And all the local residents are comfortable with having the team here and using [the land] for recreational purposes."

One holdup involves determining the value of the land. According to Naugle, the FAA is basing the value on industrial use, which zoning doesn't allow, rather than recreational. The city's payment to the airport fund, based on revenue obtained from having the Orioles there, also must be settled.

The Orioles have declined to comment publicly. They're believed to have signed an option agreement with Indian River County that would allow them to hold spring training in Vero Beach, Fla., as early as next year, though they won't confirm or deny the reports. And officials from Sarasota reportedly have contacted Orioles executive vice president John Angelos about having the team replace the Cincinnati Reds, who are relocating to Goodyear, Ariz.

Most of the Orioles' attention has been directed at the Fort Lauderdale negotiations, with Vero Beach and Sarasota regarded a possible fallback options.

"I understand the team needs to cover their bases if the FAA says 'no' and we can't do a deal, because they want to have a consolidated facility," Naugle said.

Naugle has been in steady contact with Angelos and Laura Williams, who runs the stadium, and is optimistic that the relationship between the organization and the city won't be broken.

"This works really well for us," he said. "Tourism people like it, local residents like it. We started out with the Yankees, and the Orioles have just been wonderful to work with. They're easy to work with.

"Their first choice is Fort Lauderdale, and we're hoping the FAA makes it possible."

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