In researching how best to address the homeless issue in Sarasota, legal consultant Michael Barfield discovered an obscure state law that prompted him to make an unusual suggestion — use Ed Smith Stadium as a homeless shelter.
Barfield was among a group of residents who met recently with City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo to discuss homelessness.
In his research, Barfield found Florida State Statute 288.1166, which states that publicly funded professional sports facilities, such as Ed Smith Stadium, “shall be designated as a shelter site for the homeless”.
Barfield was part of the legal team that sued the county over what it claimed were out-of-sunshine negotiations with baseball teams wanting to use the stadium.
“My initial reaction: I laughed,” he said of the homeless shelter prospect. “But after thinking about it more, it made sense. (The stadium) has showers, food preparation areas, and it’s only used a few weeks out of the year.”
The statute was part of the rule written as a result of local governments using state funds designed specifically to build stadiums to keep spring-training baseball in Florida.
Millions of dollars have been poured into Ed Smith Stadium during the past year to upgrade it for its new tenants, the Baltimore Orioles.
An Orioles spokesman did not return messages seeking comment.
Caragiulo said he’s not yet sold on the idea, but he’s not shying away from it, either.
“Once you get over the initial shock, it’s very intriguing,” the commissioner said. “I don’t know if it could work, because it’s all in the logistics.”
Barfield suggested just a small part of the stadium be designated as a shelter, so the Orioles’ operations are not impacted. He also said a full-time security guard would be needed.
County Attorney Steve DeMarsh is not sure that the state statute will require that use in Ed Smith Stadium.
Said Interim County Administrator Terry Lewis: “At first blush, (DeMarsh) said it may not apply. But he’s going to research it a lot more.”
Barfield said he hopes the Orioles will see a benefit and not dismiss the idea without giving it some thought.
“Sarasota helped out the Orioles when they were homeless,” he said.
Florida Statute 288.1166
Any professional sports facility constructed with financial assistance from the state of Florida shall be designated as a shelter site for the homeless in accordance with the criteria of locally existing homeless shelter programs, except when the facility is otherwise contractually obligated for a specific event or activity. Should a local program not be in existence in the facility’s area, such program shall be established in accordance with normally accepted criteria as defined by the county or its designee.