Attention Minnesota Twins fans: You may now cautiously rejoice.
The Major League Baseball team will have its spring training in Lee County for 30 more years, if the county can get a state grant for $15 million.
Lee County Commissioners voted 4 -1 Tuesday, with Commissioner Brian Bigelow dissenting, to sign the 30-year conditional lease with the Twins.
"I'm pleased," said Doug Meurer, assistant county manager, who is handling the deal. "A lot of hard work went into developing the document and I'm glad the board understood the issue. Now the focus for the next few weeks is on finalizing the documents for the state grant."
The county needed to sign the contingent lease before discussing improvements to Hammond Stadium at the Lee County Sports Complex, where the Twins train. Normally the improvements would have been hashed before the lease, but the county needed to handle it in reverse order to meet the July 6 deadline for the state funds, which can only be used to retain a baseball team.
"The Twins and the county are working to move forward in good faith," Commissioner Tammy Hall said. "We definitely don't know what budget we're working with yet, which is the difficult part of the agreement, but we're working together in good faith to come up with a wish list that fits a budget."
She said the goal is to work with the Twins and come up with a budget - which will largely be supported by tourist tax dollars - and find improvements that fit within those parameters.
Since the county would have to match the state funds, the improvements would run at least $30 million. Bigelow's concerns were prevalent and plenty.
"I need some assurance that we have ample revenues through tourist tax to be able to fund this," Bigelow said. "It's impossible to answer that, because we don't know the cost. We're putting the horse before the cart. First we need to know what enhancements are necessary, then the cost. We don't know if our revenues can fund it.
"We're setting ourselves up for a scenario that is much more difficult."
But Commissioner Ray Judah said matching the state funds wouldn't put a financial strain on the county since they will be coming from tourist tax dollars. The Twins alone generate at least $25 million to $30 million per year from tourists flocking to Lee County, using the hotels, eating at the restaurants and going to games.
"We value the Twins organization. Baseball is a huge economic impact in our community," Judah said. "Again, we're using tourist tax revenue to stimulate the economy, and that's nothing but a positive upside for our community."
Judah said using those funds to match a state grant at $500,000 per year for 30 years is well within the county's capacity. It wouldn't even use the full 20 percent allocated for capital improvements, like baseball stadiums, from the nearly $30 million tourist tax fund, he said.
He added that making improvements would stimulate the economy by creating jobs, like the hundreds that were created during the construction of jetBlue Park, where the Boston Red Sox have their spring training.
Among the improvements the Twins have requested, which aren't outline in the lease signed Tuesday, are 1,000 more seats at Hammond Stadium, player dormitories, and player development amenities.
The Twins have eight years left on their lease with the county along with two five-year extension options. If the county doesn't get the state funds, Judah said, there is time to renegotiate a lease and fund improvements. It doesn't mean the Twins will pack up and leave, he said.
"Without the state grant funds, Lee County may be able to make the upgrades, but not in the expeditious time frame as we could with the $15 million grant," Judah said. "So at that time we'll have to reassess the current partnership, but the Twins have always been very appreciative of the facility, so we'll renegotiate the contract."