While the city and county continue spring-training talks with the Baltimore Orioles, millions of dollars are slipping away.
The Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCVB) said it is having to turn away lucrative contracts for high school and college baseball tournaments.
Due to the uncertainty over Ed Smith Stadium, the city has issued a directive to the SCVB not to book any events at the facility. Jason Puckett, the SCVB’s sports manager, said the region could lose more than $6 million this year as a result.
“We’ve had several event organizers attempt to plan future events in Sarasota, and we have had to inform them that the facility is not available,” Puckett said.
Those events include the Florida High School Athletic Association’s state championships, IBC Baseball tournament, Big Ten/Big East Challenge, National Club Baseball Association tournament and RussMatt college baseball.
Dave Barnard, RussMatt tournament director, said this past March his organization took 200 teams to Polk County and booked 25,000 to 30,000 hotel-room nights there.
“We’re by far the largest spring college tournament,” he said. “We’re already booked (in Vero Beach) in March 2010.”
Barnard said he would have brought about 100 teams to play at Twin Lakes Park, if the Orioles had moved their minor-league training from Twin Lakes Park to the Ed Smith Stadium.
He said if a deal is worked out soon, he could still bring a few games to Sarasota, but it would most likely have to wait until 2011.
Chuck White, the national director of IBC Baseball, said he tried to book Ed Smith Stadium this summer but was told it was not available.
“I have 10 events I could have booked in Sarasota this year,” White said. “Our weekend tournaments use about 200 to 300 hotel-room nights.”
IBC Baseball has been coming to Sarasota for 15 years, but, instead, booked this year’s summer tournaments in Clearwater.
“We can’t wait (to reserve fields),” White said. “I have to book a year out, because I have teams coming from 30 states.”
Puckett said the need for tournaments to make reservations far into the future poses a problem.
“You don’t want to book them and then call back and say you have to cancel,” Puckett said. “The relationship is pretty much dead after that.”
City Manager Bob Bartolotta said the directive was issued because there was too much uncertainty over the future of the stadium.
“We don’t know whether the stadium will be rebuilt for the Orioles or another group,” he said. “I don’t think it would be fiscally prudent (to allow future bookings.)”
The Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCVB) uses a specific calculation to determine the economic impact of any event in the county.
It adds together the average daily cost of things such as hotel rooms, travel, gas and food.
As a result, the SCVB has determined that out-of-state visitors to Sarasota spend $143 per day, and in-state visitors spend $72 per day.
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