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For Dodgers, spring is in Arizona air

February 15, 2007|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed seven free agents this winter, including stars Jason Schmidt and Nomar Garciaparra, but the best deals they made might be the ones that enable them to move their spring home from Florida to Arizona.

The Dodgers will pay nothing to terminate their lease in Vero Beach, Fla. They will pay nothing to move into a new, two-team complex in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, Ariz., in 2009. They could earn millions from selling a minor league team in Florida, millions more from running the Glendale facility and millions more by developing nearby land they could purchase at a substantial discount.

As baseball's training camps open this week, the Dodgers start reporting to Vero Beach on Friday for what they expect to be their penultimate spring there. Although the Dodgers are expected to challenge the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants as the top draws in Arizona's Cactus League -- and profit from it -- owner Frank McCourt said he wouldn't pack up six decades of memories at storied Dodgertown only for the money.

"This is not an economic decision," he said. "This is a fan convenience decision."

In November, the Dodgers and Chicago White Sox agreed to move to Glendale, into what the city promised in writing would be "the finest spring training facility in major league baseball." In December, the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority approved funding for the project.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday February 16, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Baseball: A map that appeared in Section A on Thursday showing both current and proposed spring training sites in Arizona had some of the stadiums in the wrong location. A corrected version appears on Page D7.

The city is hammering out the details of separate contracts with the authority and the teams, with construction expected to start this summer and the grand opening scheduled for 2009.

For the first time since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, their fans would be able to experience spring training without a cross-country excursion. That accessibility was the primary factor in pursuing a deal in Arizona, McCourt said, even as he acknowledged the possibility of abundant revenues in this particular deal.

"I wouldn't do it if it wasn't a great thing for the Dodgers, the fans and the health of the franchise," McCourt said. "The way you're looking at it is [with] a little bit of rose-colored glasses."

The Glendale blueprint envisions a 12,000-seat stadium and adjacent parking area, separate clubhouses for the Dodgers and White Sox and six practice diamonds for each team. Glendale officials estimate construction costs at $76.8 million.

When a city or county in Arizona lures a team, tourists typically pay the majority of the construction costs, from taxes on rental cars and hotel rooms. The city or county generally picks up the rest of the bill, runs the stadium year-round and agrees with the team on how to split spring revenues from tickets, parking, and concessions.

In the Glendale deal, however, the Dodgers and White Sox would run the stadium year-round and keep all the revenue -- from naming rights, Cactus League games and non-baseball events such as concerts and trade shows. The teams would pay for routine maintenance but not for major renovations.

In addition, the teams can purchase 30 acres of city-owned land elsewhere in Glendale. The teams have 10 years to decide whether to buy, but the price is fixed, even as property values there escalate rapidly.

The deal minimizes an economic risk to Glendale, City Manager Ed Beasley said, because Cactus League stadium operations usually are not profitable. By affording the teams a financial incentive to book events year-round and enticing the teams to buy and develop other property in town, Glendale anticipates a significant increase in sales tax revenue.

"What cities live and die by is sales tax," Beasley said.

McCourt initiated discussions on including development opportunities in the deal, city spokeswoman Julie Frisoni said. The city agreed to hold two vacant parcels of land for the Dodgers and White Sox to purchase jointly, or for one team to buy if the other decides not to buy.

The parcels are not adjacent to the stadium but about one mile away, across the Loop 101 freeway, closer to the Arizona Cardinals' football stadium and the Phoenix Coyotes' hockey arena. The Dodgers and White Sox can buy the land at any time within 10 years, but the price is fixed at $10.85 a square foot.

"It's a nice feature," McCourt said. "No particular bargain there."

Not at this time, perhaps. Nearby land available for commercial development currently sells for $8 to $10 a square foot, said Bruce Campbell, first vice president at CB Richard Ellis in Phoenix. But he said that value has roughly doubled in the last four years and, with Glendale growing rapidly, could double again in another four years.

At that rate, the land could be worth $20 a square foot, or more, by the time the Dodgers and White Sox exercise their option to buy.

"I think it's a very good deal," Campbell said. "If they exercise it five years out or eight years out, and it's fixed at that price, that's a really good deal."

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