Lee County agrees to April 15 closing date on Red Sox stadium property 

— Lee County will own the land for the new Red Sox stadium by April 15 or it never will.

County commissioners agreed to a firm closing date with Watermen-Pinnacle Development, meaning they will pay the $20 million for the 106 acres on the north side of Daniels Parkway by then. Under the contract, the closing might otherwise have taken place as late as Jan. 1, 2011.

“We were looking at a May 1 date anyway,” county Public Works Director Jim Lavender said.

Watermen President Eddy Garcia said he was expecting that, too, but wanted to close on the property based on another deal he’s making in May.

Red Sox Vice President Jonathan Gilula said that he remains confident the project is on track. What really matters to the team, he said, is Spring Training 2012.

“That’s what everyone is really focused on,” he said.

The changes also push back dates for plan submittals by three months. The county staff was supposed to have site plans to Watermen for zoning applications by Oct. 1, but missed the deadline. The new deadline is Dec. 1.

County Attorney David Owen said nothing in the deal will affect the county’s ability to meet project deadlines.

If commissioners hadn’t approved the changes, Watermen would have had the right to walk away. There was little chance of that. The team is buying 20 acres for commercial development adjacent to the stadium land -- also from Watermen -- and had already approved the same changes in its deal.

Garcia said there were other buyers interested in the property, and he wanted that right to stop the deal just in case.

“It’s a right I didn’t want to give up,” Garcia said. “It’s an approved (development) with no permitting issues.”

Lavender said he’s still looking at breaking ground on the stadium next June or July. The Sox want to start playing in the new stadium -- a Fenway Park replica complete with a Green Monster wall in left field -- in 2012.

The county took another step in that direction Tuesday when commissioners approved a design engineer for the six-laning of Daniels Parkway in front of the stadium site. That project is expected to cost $4 million, money that will come from property taxes. The roadwork is expected to be done in October 2011.

Late last year, the team and county leaders struck a new 30-year deal that includes the new stadium after Sarasota came calling on the Red Sox last summer.

Lee County government has budgeted $75 million for the south Lee stadium, money that comes from property taxes. The plan is to pay back the investment using future tourist tax collections.

Gilula said that there likely will be “tweaks” in the 30-year contract between the county and the team.

“I don’t anticipate any major change in the ball park program and design,” he said. “There may be tweaks along the way.”

As for the stadium design, Gilula said he understands there is huge interest.

“It’s still very much a work in progress,” he said. “We are excited to share those with Lee County and other members of Red Sox Nation.” Commissioners approved the changes unanimously.

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