LEE COUNTY — Around 100 fans, government officials and baseball executives gathered on a dusty, windswept expanse in Fort Myers on Friday morning to celebrate construction of the new Boston Red Sox spring training facility.
As construction workers scaled the early stages of concrete and rebar pillars in the distance, Larry Lucchino, President and chief executive officer of the Boston Red Sox, waived a commemorative silver shovel in the air and gushed over the new stadium and the team’s 30-year commitment to hosting spring training in Lee County.
“We enter this long-term marriage with our eyes wide open and the wind at our back,” Lucchino said. “We are now officially on the road to constructing an exceptional, modern, spacious, state-of-the-art, single site spring training and player development complex — an achievement that will join us together as business partners and community partners at least until the year 2041.”
The 30-year spring training contract, Lucchino said, will “deepen our roots and strengthen our ties to the community.”
Other speakers, including several county commissioners, touted about the 11,000-seat stadium just off Daniels Parkway east of I-75, with six soccer fields and six baseball practice fields, as an economic catalyst for area businesses and a boost to Lee County’s long-term economic vitality.
Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann stood before the crowd and talked about his family ties to New England.
“We are Red Sox to the core,” Mann said about his family.
Mann went on to thank Lee County’s visitors for paying the tab for the $75 million construction project set to be completed in early 2012, through the tourist development tax.
“I want to give a huge hand to the folks up north who are paying for this thing,” Mann said.
Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah also spoke before the crowd.
Judah said the Red Sox franchise generates $24 million annually in Lee County, with two-thirds of that revenue coming from out-of-area visitors.
After addressing the crowd, Judah said because the spring training facility is designed to be a year-round sports complex, major amateur sporting tournaments, like the Roy Hobbs adult baseball tournament, will continue to come to Lee County.
Judah said the Roy Hobbs tournament generates $10 million in four weeks for Lee County businesses.
“It puts heads in bed,” Judah said about the estimated 40,000 visitors who attend the tournament.
Sean Bunn, of Raleigh, N.C. and governor of the North Carolina chapter of “Red Sox Nation”, attended the ceremony and said he is grateful the team chose to stay in Fort Myers.
“We always come down to Lee County and Fort Myers,” Bunn said. “This is one of the best places to get real access for passionate fans to the Red Sox.”
“At this point I kind of know Fort Myers,” he said. “I don’t want to have to know another part of Florida.”
Carole Marcotte, of Chelmsford, Mass., said she and her husband are Red Sox season ticket holders for spring training.
“We’re anxious and wondering where are seats are going to be,” Marcotte said, adding she was happy the stadium will offer more seats.
“There’s so many people that can’t get tickets, including my own kids when they come down to visit,” Marcotte said.
When asked if she had any other thoughts on the Red Sox and the new stadium, Marcotte said she is just hoping for a good season.
“I want them to start hitting,” she said.