City Council approves land swap with county to allow youth fields at Dodgertown

VERO BEACH — The Vero Beach City Council voted 3-1 Tuesday to approve a land swap with the county at the Vero Beach Sports Village property that Vice President of Minor League Baseball Craig Callan said is crucial to the survival of the burgeoning operation.

The swap would allow the city to consolidate property it owns at the former Dodgertown site from its current L-shape into more of a rectangle running along 43rd Avenue and give the county property to the south of Holman Stadium. That property includes a large portion of the former Dodgertown 9-hole golf course.

With that land in the county’s hands, the Sports Village would then build a cloverleaf of baseball diamonds to accommodate youth baseball and softball games.

 Callan told the council without the addition of the Little League and softball fields, his organization’s goal of providing year-round sports at the facility would be doomed.

“We cannot be successful without this,” Callan said. “Without this Minor League Baseball (which runs the property) will fail in Vero Beach.”

Mayor Kevin Sawnick, Vice-Mayor Sabe Abell and Councilman Ken Daige voted in favor of approving the swap, while Councilman Brian Heady voted against.

Councilman Tom White had to leave before the vote was taken, but voiced his approval for the swap.

The swap would be about nine acres of county land to the west of Holman Stadium for about 11 acres of the old golf course property, which the city controls.

If the swap goes through, the area that would house the Little League and softball fields would also contain Walter O’Malley’s famous heart-shaped pond making the available land being exchanged about even, according to city staff.

The exchange would also eliminate much of the overflow parking area the city had made available when Holman regularly hosted 8,000 people for Dodger Spring Training games.

With the consent of the City Council in place, Callan must now go before the County Commission to get that board’s approval of the land swap. Callan must also get approval on a modified agreement for improvements the county had promised to make at the facility.

Callan would like to amend an agreement that would have required the county install minor-league standard lighting on four current full-size baseball diamonds. Instead he would rather the county light just two fields and use the rest of the money to build the youth cloverleaf fields.

Callan estimated it would cost the county between $800,000 and $900,000 to light four fields.

Councilman Heady said he was put off by the lack of specificity of how much the changes to the Dodgertown property were going to cost and thus cast the lone no vote.

“I can’t sign a blank check,” he said. “I don’t know how representatives of the public can agree to a blank check without knowing what they have agreed to.”

City Manager Jim Gabbard spoke in favor of the swap saying that by consolidating Vero Beach’s portion the property could be better marketed.

He did say that the Wadsworth Foundation, which at one time was interested in re-developing the old 9-hole golf course, has expressed some interest in using the city land for a golf academy with three or four practice holes.

He also said there has been some interest about locating a tennis academy on the property.

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