A Swing and a Miss

By Randy Noles

Count me among those who would likely have never attended a Brevard Manatees game, even if a deal could have been struck to build a spanking-new stadium to host the minor-league team.

Maybe I’ve just never gotten accustomed to the leisurely pace of baseball. Maybe it’s because I was raised in football country — Roll, Tide! — where there was no professional baseball tradition.

America’s pastime? Not where I came from. Yet I was sorely disappointed when the effort to bring minor-league baseball to Winter Park fell apart.

You know the story by now. When stadium locations were being considered, Winter Park Tech, Martin Luther King Jr. Park and the current site of Rollins College’s Harper Shepherd field were ruled out for various (entirely valid) reasons.

Ravaudage, the fledgling 72-acre mixed-use development at U.S. Highway 17-92 and Lee Road, then emerged as the top contender for a proposed $22 million complex that would have been home to the Manatees and the Rollins Tars.

The City of Winter Park, Rollins, team owner Tom Winters (a Winter Park resident) and Sydgan Corp., developer of Ravaudage, tried to work out what City Manager Randy Knight later described as a “win-win-win” to get the local field of dreams built.

If baseball was to come to Winter Park, this option seemed to be ideal. The land has mostly been cleared and the location is comfortably removed from the city’s core. It’s just minutes from I-4 and sits squarely in the middle of a redeveloping commercial corridor that sorely needs something other than more new shopping centers.

Minor-league baseball typically is not a huge financial boon to a city, say experts. But it is a wonderful asset that offers wholesome, inexpensive family entertainment and engenders civic pride (something that Winter Park, understandably, isn’t currently lacking — but you get my point).

So, the little city that has everything could also have had its own baseball team. And at Ravau-dage, a quasi-civic facility such as a sports complex would have been infinitely preferable to a Walmart or whatever other big-box retailer might ultimately end up there.

I don’t know exactly what happened to sour negotiations. Sports-team owners are often reluctant to risk much of their own money, preferring taxpayers to pony up. Cities are often reluctant to be seen as subsidizing private businesses, especially when the economic benefit of doing so is somewhat nebulous, as is the case with baseball.

And landowners are often reluctant to give away their property so someone else can operate a moneymaking venture on it.

When talks collapsed, all sides issued civil but vague statements to effect of, “we did our best — it just didn’t work out.” Only the Manatees took a direct swipe at one of the principals, Dan Bellows, developer of Ravaudage. “Perhaps our discussions can renew if a new owner of Ravaudage emerges with a different vision and valuation,” Winters was quoted as saying.

In baseball, three strikes and you’re out — usually. But the interested parties should take another swing at this project. Team owner Winters lives in Winter Park, as does Bellows, who has made huge investments here and transformed swaths of the city from blighted to beautiful. The Tars could be playing in a bigtime stadium, and the city could offer its residents (and visitors) an amenity that would delight generations of families.

Maybe they need to talk it out over hot dogs and beer.

Randy Noles



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