Lee considering $5M deal for 14 acres to expand Minnesota Twins spring training complex

— Lee County will consider a $5 million land deal to buy more than 14 acres near Hammond Stadium where the Minnesota Twins train.

An appraisal found the land worth $3.4 million as of Nov. 30 and the seller had previously wanted more than twice that.

However, the owner, Suriyah LLC, agreed to sell the land for $4.8 million.

Commissioners will vote on the matter Tuesday.

If the deal is approved, talks could commence with the team about what they would be looking for in improved amenities.

“I think it signals to them that we want to be their long-term home, not just for the next 10 years,” said Jeff Mielke, executive director of the Lee County Sports Authority. “We are passionate about Spring Training baseball and we want to protect that.”

The site could be used to build another practice field, expand existing facilities to make way for new technologies and more parking.

A tentative plan calls for borrowing $5 million from the county’s capital improvement fund and repaying the loan in 7.5 years with the stadium surplus debt fund, according to a county document.

The Twins bring in some $25 million in tourist spending each season. The Sports Authority is convinced the county will need to be able to offer the team more to retain them beyond their 2020 contract.

Mielke said the team has not threatened to leave Fort Myers but the county needs to be able to offer facilities on par with other Spring Training sites, including the new Boston Red Sox complex under construction in Lee County.

“We just have to make sure we have expandable options,” he said. “If we don’t have more property, we have no options.”

He said the team is not interested in adding seats to the stadium that serves about 7,800.

Another site was considered, said Robert Clemens, land acquisitions manager, but it was less appealing because it was across Plantation Road. If the land is used for parking, it would require fans to cross traffic to reach the ball fields.

“Keeping the traffic away is a much safer design and use of it than being bisected by a road,” Clemens said.

That land owner was not interested in selling, he said.

The 14.3 acre site up for consideration Tuesday is the only possible option for expanding on contiguous property, as the stadium is bordered by roads on two sides with developed land on a third side.

If the land deal goes through, the county would have to determine where to build any expansions.

There are softball fields adjacent to the stadium and relocating them toward the southern end of the new property could cost about $2 million.

Connect with Tara E. McLaughlin at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tara-mclaughlin/

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