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On-again, off-again Dodgertown expansion back on track

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The expansion of Vero Beach Sports Village, which seemed to be a done deal earlier this month, and then seemed to have fallen through at the last minute in a disagreement over contract language, is back on track, according to County Attorney Alan Polackwich.

The county owns the Sports Village, formerly Dodgertown, and leases it to Minor League Baseball, which operates it as a training and tournament facility mainly for high school, college and other amateur baseball teams. The planned expansion will add a cloverleaf of four smaller ball fields designed for Little League baseball and girls softball.

County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan said that the county plans to spend approximately $2 million to build the fields and make other improvements at the park.

On May 3, the county and the city of Vero Beach approved a land swap that consisted of the city transferring ownership of a 12-acre parcel south of Holman Stadium where the youth ball fields are expected to be built in exchange for receiving title to 10.3 acres a few hundred yards to the north along 26th Street.

That seemed to seal the deal, which had been in negotiation for eight months, but the next day Minor League Baseball objected to amended language in its lease with the county that said the county was in full compliance with the lease terms.

Under the lease, signed in 2009 when MiLB moved into the facility, the county was supposed to have created two youth ball fields and added lights to other fields, but did not do so.

Scott Poley, MiLB’s senior vice president for legal affairs, said it was inappropriate for his organization to sign a lease that said the county was “in good standing” when it had not fulfilled the terms of the lease.

However, when county officials threatened to call off the land swap and not fund the expansion, MiLB reconsidered its reluctance to sign on the dotted line and reached an agreement with Polackwich on Monday.

“Minor League Baseball has agreed to sign the contract with the language we want, so it looks like the deal will go through,” Polackwich said.

At today’s meeting of the County Commission, Polackwich told the commissioners that MiLB had dropped its objection to the lease language and said, “our intent is to proceed forward.”

The Commission had already approved the agreement at its May 3 meeting, so no action was required.

Commissioner Wesley Davis said that it was “benevolent” of MiLB to drop its objections since, in fact, the county had not fulfilled its end of the original bargain.

O’Bryan said he believed the county paying for expansion would send a “good clear signal to Minor League Baseball” that the county is committed to its partnership with the organization “for a very long time,” and that he was hopeful the expansion would be a great success, benefiting both MiLB and the local economy, with more teams and family members spending more money at local hotels, restaurants and stores.

Craig Callan, who runs the Sports Village for Minor League Baseball, said after the May 3 agreement that the new smaller fields would likely boost business by 15 percent next year and could eventually increase onsite revenue by as much as 50 percent.

“Youth baseball and girls softball are very popular and we were shut out from that whole segment of the market,” he said. “By adding the new fields we are essentially adding a whole new business.”

The county has received nine bids for the expansion work and Callan said he expects the new fields to be finished by early next year, allowing Minor League Baseball to market them for the 2012 spring training season.

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