Will Winter Park Play Ball?

Possible Stadium Deal Has Potential to Fast-Forward Development of NW Winter Park – including Lee Rd. “Punch-Thru” to Denning Dr.

Minor League Baseball, in the form of the Brevard County Manatees, is being batted around the City Commission Chambers once again.

On January 21, the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) joined Mayor Bradley and city officials in an in-depth discussion of stadium-building and related development in and around Denning Drive and 17-92.

Included in the discussion was the possibility of a developer-driven revival of the Dept. of Transportation’s long-planned “Punch-Thru” of Lee Road to Denning Drive. Click video image below to see the “Punch-Thru” excerpt from the 1/21 EDAB hearing.

Mayor Bradley opened the discussion by characterizing the proposed baseball stadium as a “generational opportunity” for Winter Park. Mr. Bradley, City Manager Knight, Economic Development Director Stone, EDAB Chair Reicher and Chamber CEO Chapin were prominent participants in the discussion. Click the video image above to see the entire baseball discussion (parts 1 & 2).

The Manatees, or the “Tees,” as they are affectionately known, are currently using the 8,100-seat Space Coast Stadium in Viera, which is too large, both for the intimate nature of minor league baseball and for the declining wealth and population in Brevard County brought on by the withdrawal of the NASA space program.

The Manatees are an “Advanced A” or “High A” level team that is part of the 12-team Florida State League. Their major league affiliate is the Milwaukee Brewers.

The ‘Tees are now looking inland to greater Orlando which, according to the Madison Consulting Group, who prepared a Facility Assessment study for the City of Winter Park, “is currently the largest market in the country without regular season-affiliated professional baseball.” While the market area is Central Florida, Winter Park is squarely in the cross-hairs for targeting a stadium location.

Madison Group Stadium Facility Assessment

At the January 13, 2014, City Commission meeting, City Manager Randy Knight requested and the Commission authorized a 45-day period to further study the feasibility of bringing minor league baseball to Winter Park.

City Staff: Give Us Five Months to Negotiate Best Deal for City.

As the 45-day review period draws to a close, the Commission has scheduled a 4pm workshop meeting for Monday, February 17, to consider a newly-released staff report that recommends moving forward with negotiations. City staff envisions a 5-month evaluation process ending in August, at which time “staff hopes to be in the position to make recommendations that will include whether or not moving forward makes sense and if so, a ranking of the sites, how the stadium project could be funded, proposed deal terms/agreements and who should throw out the first pitch.”

Staff Baseball Stadium Analysis

Rollins’ Harper Shepherd Field Back in Play as Possible Stadium Site.

Earlier this year, Rollins College was negotiating possible equity partnership in the minor league baseball effort, but the Rollins Board of Trustees voted to withdraw because of the expense of reorienting and enlarging Harper Shepherd Field and because they felt unable to meet the Manatees’ schedule requirements of a 2015 opening. Rollins subsequently expressed interest in “becoming a tenant” if a new stadium is built. But now, Rollins has re-emerged as a possible partner to the City and the Manatees. The new city staff report acknowledges that “after discussion with Rollins representatives, the Harper Shepherd Field site was added back as a potential site.”

City “Tree Farm” on Lee Rd. Eliminated as Stadium Site.

While suggesting that “other sites could surface as feasible during the next phase of the study if we proceed,” city staffers reversed course on the tree farm – eliminating the city-owned property “as a potential stadium site at this time” explaining that “lack of good access, visibility and the neighborhood impacts led staff to remove that site from current consideration.”

Stadium Economics 101: What Are Costs/Benefits?

As of now, the current “short list” of sites includes Martin Luther King, Jr., Park on Denning, the Ravaudage development on Lee Road, the current site of the VoTech school on Webster & Denning and Harper Shepherd field.

The city staff report’s cursory financial analysis of each site indicates that the “Funding Gap” in each case – the funds needed to develop a site in addition to the dollars contributed by the principals – ranges from $11 million (Harper Shepherd) to $35.5 million (Ravaudage).

During the 1/21 EDAB workshop, Mayor Bradley commented on possible stadium “income streams” including ticket sales, naming rights, concessions, lease revenue and event revenue among others.

He summed up the project’s net benefit by concluding that “First and foremost, the economic benefit that comes from a place like this is outside the park . . . I think if most municipalities figure out a way to have some return and/or break even for the amenity, they probably are ahead of the game.” Click video image above to see EDAB discussion of potential stadium revenues.

Are MLK Park and Votech at Webster & Denning the Most-Favored Stadium Sites?

The “team” of major players that is beginning to coalesce around the Manatees’ relocation to Winter Park includes Manatees owner and local orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Tom Winters; Scott Fish, principal of Nashville-based UP Development – developer of the Lee Rd./17-92 Corporate Square site which will include the new Whole Foods Market; Tennessee native David S. Freeman, part owner of the Nashville Predators hockey team; Rollins College; and, the city of Winter Park.

In his January 30 email to Scott Fish, City Manager Randy Knight updates the developer on stadium funding progress and negotiations with Orange County concerning acquisition of the VoTech site:

“We have made some additional progress since our last discussion. We have explored a few different ways to plug our funding gap and while we don’t have it all figured out yet we have learned a lot. I have had conversations with the Orange County School board employee in charge of facilities and he has committed to me that he would let me know by the end of next week what the options would be to acquire the property as well as what the process would be.”

Knight/Fish Email

>>Click UP Development image below to see full site plan.

Will Developer Interest in Lee Rd. “Punch-Thru” Influence DOT Plans?

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On February 12, Randy Knight responded to questions from the Winter Park Voice, explaining the City’s approach to UP Development and clarifying ownership of the Manatees – including Mr. Freeman’s possible involvement.

In his emailed response, Knight wrote, “I am the one who pitched the idea to Mr. Fish about considering a stadium as part of his development . . . Dr. Tom Winters continues to be the owner. A gentleman by the name of David Freeman has an option to buy a portion of the team from Dr. Winters.”

Dr. Winters and potential owner David S. Freeman appear to favor locating the stadium either in MLK Park or on the present Votech school site. Mr. Freeman wrote in an email to Mayor Bradley and City Manager Knight, “First, Tom is supportive and enthusiastic regarding the “school” site. Thus, as long as the City can acquire title to the site without any strings attached, we would be happy on that site.”

Freeman Email to City

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Predators & UP’s Scott Fish Partnered In Nashville-Area Stadium Project.

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David Freeman and Scott Fish may have an opportunity to team up again if Winter Park chooses to build a stadium on the VoTech site next to Fish’s Up Development site. In recent years, Fish and investor David Freeman’s Predators worked together to keep the Franklin, Tennessee A-Game Sportsplex near Nashville afloat. Freeman also poured millions into the Predators hockey franchise. The Predators play at Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville, a few miles from the Grand Ole Opry.

As reported by Tennessean online news in April 2012, David Freeman “spearheaded the purchase of the team in 2007 to prevent it from being sold to a Canadian businessman intent on moving the Predators out of Nashville, [ and ] remains a member of the ownership group. Click to read Tennessean article.

Scott Fish’s WordPress blog describes his arena-saving investment in the A-Game Sportsplex as one of his “most significant accomplishments” explaining that the arena was “was losing around $30,000 per month. The 110,000-square-foot facility was on the verge of closing down, so I purchased it for $6 million . . . My daughter’s hockey team, along with a handful of others, was playing there. With the looming shutdown, all those players would have had to find a different home base. I also saw that the arena could be turned into something that benefited the entire community.”

Click HERE and HERE to read more about Scott Fish $6 Million A-Game Sportsplex investment.

UP Development’s Scott Fish Expands His Orlando-Area Real Estate Holdings.

Mr. Fish specializes in rehabilitating distressed properties and has acquired under-performing Orlando-area properties in recent years, including the Fashion Square Mall, Toys-R-Us and the Robb & Stucky store in Altamonte Springs – a property he recently sold to the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, who will relocate their Winter Park headquarters there.

UP Development’s website describes the company as a “premier retail developer focused predominately in the Southeastern United States. With over 20 years of experience. UP Development has positioned itself as a go to shop for developers, financiers, and owners with troubled assets that require creative and unique workout solutions.”

Click to see UP Development website.

Local Sports Enthusiasts See Minor League Baseball & Venue Events as “Affordable” Family Entertainment.

In an interview with the Voice, Bob King, Head Baseball Coach of Winter Park High School whose son Stephen has been playing in the minor leagues since 2006, observed that the minor league games provide affordable entertainment for families – often drawing crowds by including interactive events such as Bring Your Dog Night, or nights when kids in the audience are invited to come down on the field and run the bases. On off season evenings, minor league fields are often used for other cultural events, Coach King explained, like a symphony playing “Mozart on the Mound.”

Joey DiFrancesco, the Assistant Baseball Coach at Winter Park High, is also a big fan of minor league baseball. “As a teacher,” he told the Voice, “I am priced out of the Magic games for me and my kids . . . but if we had a minor league team, I would be the first in line.”

Winter Park Voice will expand its coverage of the UP development site on 17-92 and other Denning area developments – including the proposed stadium site search & negotiations – in future stories.

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    By: Anne Mooney

    Anne Mooney has assumed the editorship of the Winter Park Voice from founding editor Tom Childers.

    Mooney got her start in New York as a freelance line editor for book publishers, among them Simon & Schuster and the Clarkson Potter division of Crown Books. From New York, she and her husband and their year-old toddler moved to Washington, D.C., where the two ran a newswire service for Harper’s magazine. “We called it Network News,” said Mooney, “because it was a network of the Harper’s writers, whose work we edited into newspaper style and format and sold to papers in the top U.S. and Canadian markets. We were sort of like a tiny UPI.”

    The newswire ceased operation with the death of Mooney’s first husband, but Mooney continued to write and edit, doing freelance work for Williams Sonoma cookbooks and for local publications in D.C.

    In 2005, Mooney moved to Winter Park, where she worked as a personal chef and wrote a regular food column for a south Florida magazine. She took an active interest in Winter Park politics and was there when the Winter Park Voice was founded. She wrote occasional pieces for the Voice, including the Childers bio that this piece replaces.

    The Winter Park Voice is one of a large number of “hyper-local” publications that have sprung up across the U.S. in response to the decline of the major daily newspapers and the resulting deficit of local news coverage. The Voice’sbeat is Winter Park City Hall, and its purpose is to help the residents of our city better understand the political forces that shape our daily lives.

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