WINTER HAVEN BASICALLY TELLS INDIANS "DON'T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU..."
Baseball spring training brings a lot of tourists to Florida, and that means a lot of money to cities who host the annual ritual. In many cases, a baseball team's making their spring training home in a city also means it's Class A minor league squad is also based there, which means more visitors --- although not quite as many --- and more money for the hotels, restaurants, and stores.
In recent years, cities in Arizona have been working to attract teams who currently make up the "Grapefruit League" to head west with promises of new facilities and the amenities that will help teams and cities make more money. To counter that effort, Governor Jeb Bush signed into law a bill making $15 million available to five cities who qualify so they can keep their teams by building new stadiums.
One of those cities is Winter Haven, who has a history of hosting spring training. For a number of years, the Boston Red Sox made Winter Haven their home, and Chain O'Lakes Stadium was built for them in 1966. After the Bosox left for Fort Myers several years ago, the park stood empty until the Cleveland Indians were forced to find a new home in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew destroyed their yet-unused base in Homestead.
Almost from the beginning, the Indians began demanding improvements to the aged facility. And because of the prime piece of real estate it stood on, the city wants to develop the Chain O'Lakes site into a shopping/condo centre. Another point of contention between the team and city is how much, if any, the Tribe plan to contribute toward a new stadium. Needless to say, the team has no intention of putting it's own money into the project, stating it wants the city, county, and state to foot the entire bill. Winter Haven officials are demanding that the city be an equal player in any partnership.
Now we discover that the Indians plan to begin discussions with Osceola County officials on the idea of moving their spring base to 30 acres of land which would be donated by The Walt Disney Company. The Tribe would play their games at Walt Disney World's Cracker Jack Stadium, which the Atlanta Braves also use. It would also make three teams training in Osceola County, as the Houston Astros are based in nearby Kissimmee.
City Manager David Greene told the Lakeland Ledger, in effect, that the city's attitude is for the Indians not to let the door hit 'em on the backside on the way out of town.
"If the Cleveland Indians want to relocate to Walt Disney World or Osceola County, the city of Winter Haven, in my opinion, will have its best effort to ensure that that happens...We'd be willing to consider a cooperative approval to terminate their agreement with the city of Winter Haven and making the state money available to Osceola County or Reedy Creek [Improvement District, an independent taxing district the state established for Disney with it came to Florida]".