A pitch by Sarasota to steal the Red Sox ended in Lee County promising tourism money to build the 2007 World Series champions a new spring playpen at a price to be named later."That is the way big business is done," said Bill Hammond, deputy county manager and veteran of negotiations with Major League Baseball franchises.
The Minnesota Twins' spring home is named for him.
Hammond and other county administrators who thwarted Sarasota said all along they would not enter a "bidding war." But in the end, at no cost to them, the Red Sox found their way out of 16-year-old City of Palms Park that Chief Operating Officer Mike Dee said the team had outgrown.The interest from Sarasota and other communities, Dee said after Tuesday's Lee County Commission meeting, "has been humbling to us and very aggressive."John Yarbrough, the county's ex-parks and recreation director who worked for free as the county's leader in retaining the Sox, said recent world championships in 2004 and 2007 changed the dynamic."The Red Sox are not the same team they were five years ago," Yarbrough said. "They are in a different orbit."Residents should not feel as though the franchise used Sarasota to upgrade here, he said."It's business," Yarbrough said. "It doesn't mean people are bad. It's just business."Karl Kuras of Cape Coral said he lived in Seattle through recent years as its sports franchises dragged taxpayers there through a slow process to secure public funding for its new venues.The Red Sox bring in an estimated $25 million every year in economic benefits, according to local leaders."The mere concept of being able to blackmail a (county) to keep a professional franchise is disgusting to no end," said Kuras.Commission Chairman Ray Judah said Lee County did not enter a bidding war, and won out in the end."This is a huge economic engine," Judah said, noting no property taxes will be used and beach projects funded by tourism dollars will be maintained.Sarasota ultimately drifted out of the picture, blaming the economy and ability to borrow money.
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