Phillies’ Pledge to Clearwater in Limbo With Lacking Funding Toward $79.7 Million Planned Renovations

By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

It is no secret. The Philadelphia Phillies are in the midst of a rebuild, both of their team and of their spring and regular-season facilities in which they occupy.

While the rebuild of the 25-man roster appears to have progressed since the days of the Ryne Sandberg-managed club, the redesign and facility upgrades to Citizens Bank Park and the Clearwater complex are just in the beginning stages.

This past spring marked the Phillies' 15th season at Spectrum Field, a $34 million venue which opened in 2004. The City of Clearwater is planning a near-$80 million proposal to renovate the stadium and the surrounding Carpenter Complex.

The Phillies organization seeks to build a 160-bed dormitory to house staff and players, many of which are teenagers from Latin American countries. Through McManus, Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar said the new dorm would help these athletes "better assimilate to the culture and mold them as top-notch athletes with full nutrition programs and mentoring."

The Carpenter Complex would also see renovations to its clubhouse, a second story of office space and a coach’s locker room, improved minor league food service facilities and an expanded dining area, player support facilities, along with improved fitness and training space, a climate controlled club level, and field improvements at Spectrum Field.

To bring this project to fruition, the City of Clearwater must secure public dollars, "amid an anticipated property tax hike to resolve a budget deficit," according to the Tampa Bay Times' Tracey McManus.

Under preliminary terms reached on Thursday, June 7, the city's proposal entails:

  • requesting $40 million in Pinellas County Tourist Development Council (TDC) bex tax funds
  • applying for $13.7 million state grant
  • using $16 million in Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue
  • acquiring $10 million contribution from Phillies

The Phillies would also agree to "pay any additional cost overruns and agree to play 20 more years" at the stadium after the current contract expires in 2023, per McManus. A major hurdle, however, is lacking funds due to a $160 million deficit through 2028. As a result, the Pinellas County TDC is allowing City Manager Bill Horne to implement up to a 20 percent property tax increase in the 2019 budget. The city is also in the midst of a $55 million waterfront redevelopment, Imagine Clearwater, however only $5.5 million has been able to fund the project thus far.

The City of Clearwater's major holdup is acquiring the $40 million in TDC bex taxes, which accounts for most of the project's $79.7 million proposal. Projections, however, show that funding "simply is not there until after 2020," per McManus.

The Spectrum Complex would not be the first stadium-proposed funding project this year for Pinellas County. In April, it allocated $41.7 million toward bed taxes for the $81 million renovation of the Toronto Blue Jays' Dunedin spring complex. To account for the remaining necessary funds, the Blue Jays doubled the Phillies $10 million proposed contribution, along with the City of Dunedin paying $5.6 million and the similar $13.7 million state grant application.

The county-based TDC is funded by a six percent bed tax on hotels and motels, and has already committed to paying $99.8 million through 2020 to "six new and three ongoing projects." By the time those commitments are paid, it would only have $6.3 left to allocate toward the Carpenter Complex, a $33.9 million difference in asking price.

It appears these projects, including the Blue Jays' renovations in Dunedin, have used up most of the funds needed for the Phillies' planned renovations for their respective spring facility.

"We can’t keep up these levels of contributions every year," County Commissioner and TDC chairman Ken Welch told McManus. "At this point we’re not really in spending mode."

Per the City of Clearwater and the Phillies' deal signed in early June, if the city does not acquire the $40 million TDC bed tax commitment, along with the $13.7 million state grant, by the end of 2018, the Phillies could "drop the project and walk away from its pledge to play in Clearwater for another 20 years," per McManus.

The Phillies' last negotiated contract with the City of Clearwater came during construction of Spectrum Field in 2003. The current contract expires in 2023.

McManus describes the current standing of the proposal:

The County Commission is required to approve conceptual plans for stadiums and spring training facilities before the application can move to the TDC for review. It is expected to discuss Clearwater’s application in July.

The TDC process can take 30 to 90 days before the plans go back to the county commission for final approval, said Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater Chief Operating Officer Tim Ramsberger.

Ramsberger said it would be possible for the county to commit $40 million to the Phillies project this year under the terms that Pinellas doesn’t have to pay anything until after 2020.

McManus notes that it is not clear whether the Phillies would be willing to undergo the project without receiving the bex tax funding from the county until after 2020. Operations Director John Timberlake told McManus earlier in June that the Phillies are "willing to work with the city if efforts to secure funding stretch past Dec. 31."

The Phillies have used Clearwater facilities for spring since 1947. This is the second-longest spring training bond between a city and major league club, only bested by the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida (1934). In 2017, the Phillies drew a total attendance of 128,236 for 18 home spring training games, or 7,124 per game.