Phillies’ Future in Clearwater Beyond 2023 Remains Uncertain

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By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

In June, wrote that the Philadelphia Phillies' "pledge" to their spring training home since 1946 — Clearwater, Florida — is in limbo, with lacking funding toward their $79.7 million planned renovations to Spectrum Field and the surrounding Carpenter Complex.

Part of the plans were to include the construction of a 160-bed dormitory to house staff and players — many of whom are teenagers from Latin American countries — to help them "better assimilate" to the culture and "mold them as top-notch athletes with full nutrition programs and mentoring," according to Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar.

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

Fast-forward to six months later, the city of Clearwater has yet to receive the $79.7 million commitment from Pinellas County and state funding, according to the Tampa Bay Times' Tracey McManus. And if this stalemate much longer, the Phillies could "walk away from the project, and [their] extension to play in the city for another 20 years when [the] contract expires in 2023."

The original deadline for Clearwater to obtain the funds was Dec. 31, however the city and the Phillies verbally agreed to extend the deadline. Florida Operations Director John Timberlake told McManus that the organization agreed to "drop" the deadline, since it is "clear" progress is being made to secure the county and state funds.

"There is no urgency on our part for that Dec. 31 deadline. We are operating in good faith, we know the process is moving," Timberlake told McManus.

Dunbar plans to present the application for "conceptual approval" to the County Commission in January, followed by the Tourist Development Council in February, for: "$40 million in bed tax funding, a 6 percent sales tax on hotels and motels that pays for marketing and capital projects to enhance tourism," McManus writes.

The Council allocates funding from the bed tax, and is important to ultimately secure the near $80 million in funds.

On top of the city needing to secure county and state funds, it regardless must reimburse the Phillies additional money, of which McManus writes:

The city plans to hire a firm in January to design architectural plans for Spectrum Field, an estimated $2 million expense the Phillies would pay initially, according to Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar.

That is on top of about $2 million in design work the Phillies completed this year on plans for Carpenter Complex renovations.

City Manager Bill Horne told McManus that Clearwater must still reimburse the Phillies for such expenses "if funding ultimately cannot be secured to build and the projected is terminated."

McManus writes:

Under the current agreement, the Phillies would contribute $10 million to the project and pay any additional cost overruns. The Phillies have been training in the city since 1946. The city has committed $16 million of its Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue, although there is currently only $14.7 million dedicated to athletic fields.

Horne said he is not concerned about moving forward on design work before county and state funding is secured. Although the term sheet sets the city up for having to repay about $4 million so far if it falls through, Horne said he is not worried it will come to that.

"I think we're all optimistic this will come together in the end," Horne said. "The uncertainty is certainly of concern, but we've not gotten any true signals indicating we're going to find ourselves in a worst case scenario."

While it appears all parties are still working diligently to assure the Phillies remain in Clearwater, nothing is yet "set in stone." Since the Phillies are extending their Dec. 31, it appears they want to remain in Clearwater for the foreseeable future.

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