Seven hours after a split City Commission approved a deal that transfers Ed Smith Stadium to the county for $1, the County Commission agreed to provide tourist-tax dollars to renovate the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
The $31.2 million agreement calls for the renovation funding to be split between the county and city. The county will provide $23.7 million, and the city will provide the $7.5 million grant it received from the state to keep baseball in Sarasota. The Orioles will only pay for construction if the cost goes above $31.2 million.
The Orioles will keep the revenue from ticket sales and concessions.
The city’s agreement puts the Orioles in charge of construction but requires the city to cleanup any contamination under the stadium property. The site used to be a landfill, and there is evidence of groundwater and soil contamination.
Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner and Sarasota City Commissioner Terry Turner voted against the agreement, because it would not place a monetary cap on how much the city would pay for the cleanup. Both wanted to place a $1 million cap on the deal.
“A public referendum (on stadium funding) didn’t pass,” Kirschner said. “I have a tough time telling the public we’re writing (the Orioles) a blank check.”
City Commissioner Suzanne Atwell initially agreed with Kirschner and Turner, but she changed her mind after Deputy County Administrator Dave Bullock said the Orioles would kill the deal if the city could limit its liability.
Mayor Dick Clapp said the city would have to pay to clean up the contamination regardless of whether the Orioles occupy the stadium. But Kirschner said the difference is that if the city were in charge of construction, it may be able to mitigate some of the cleanup costs. With the Orioles in charge, they get to pick what construction method to use, even if it results in a higher cleanup cost.
After the vote, Kirschner expressed some concern that the city was rushed into the deal. Commissioners received a copy of the agreement after hours July 21, and they were asked to make a decision at 1 p.m. today.
He felt county officials wanted a decision immediately, because their vacations were in August, and July 22 was their last meeting until September.
“I think we could have gone back and negotiated,” he said.
The City Commission voted 3-2 in favor of the deal; Kirschner and Turner were the dissenting votes. The County Commission voted 4-1 in favor of the deal; County Commission Chairman Jon Thaxton was the dissenting vote.
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