ICYMI: Dunedin approves new look for Blue Jays spring training facilities
*This story was originally published on November 19, 2018
By Jim Cowan
Canadian Baseball Network
The City of Dunedin, Fla., has approved schematic designs for the Toronto Blue Jays new spring training facilities, although the chosen designs push the project more than $7.3 million over the approved $81 million budget.
At a city commission meeting on November 8, the commissioners voted 4-1 for one of four proposed designs presented by the Kansas City architectural design firm Populus, Inc. The design is in keeping with the “Key West” look preferred by Dunedin residents in a poll taken when the project was unveiled in 2016.
“This is a long-term project that has to look good for a long time,” Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski told the commission. “I don’t want to skimp on something we told community would be beautiful. They told us they want Key West; it needs to look Key West. We need to follow what the community wanted us to do. This gets us part way there.”
The new stadium – in fact, a renovation of the existing Grant Field facility – will feature what the architects described as a more open, coastal feel. Design accents such as a trellis effect along roof lines will lighten the structures appearance, while a single tower housing an elevator will dominate the main gate area.
The commission also approved the schematic design for the Jays’ new Player Development Centre (PDC), located about 15 minutes away from the stadium at what’s known as the Englebert/Vanech complex. The city will take over the existing clubhouse and office complex, while a new club house with facilities for both the major and minor league affiliates will be built near the centre of the property, surrounded by playing fields, batting tunnels and other training venues. The complex will also be home to the Jays rapidly-developing sports science centre and will be used year-round by players rehabilitating from injuries.
The stadium design chosen by the commission will add $360,000 to the approved stadium budget of $33.3 million. In approving the design, the commission instructed staff to work with the city’s partners – Florida, Pinellas County and the Blue Jays – on funding options to cover the cost overruns.
The Blue Jays have already agreed to add $7 million to the PDC’s original $47.8 million estimated cost to ensure that most of the centre’s programming elements are preserved.
Even with the additional funding, many features from the original proposal for the stadium have been either reduced in scope or cut out altogether. For example, a grass berm to provide casual seating was removed in favour of fixed seating, the boardwalk that will circle the field allowing 360-degree movement inside the stadium has been narrowed by almost 50 per cent, the number of air-conditioned suites has dropped from five to three, and there will be only one elevator instead of the proposed three. The size of the visitors’ club house has also been reduced from the original proposal.
Another significant change affects the playing field. It was originally proposed to increase the playing surface to match the dimensions at Rogers Centre, but site restrictions at Grant Field made this impossible. One improvement that survived, however, is that fans will be able to see into the bullpens.
At the PDC, many of the cost-saving reductions have to do with architectural elements such as ornamental finishes, facades and other items that do not directly affect the training programs.
On the podcast “The Lede” with Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt, Jays President Mark Shapiro recently said the new training complex will provide an overall training experience that will be “among the top two or three (in Major League Baseball). The only reason it’s not one is because we are still going to have a stadium that’s six or seven kilometres away. But we’ll all be training together, which I think is really important.”
Commissioners also expressed concern that this might be just the start of cost escalation, and Populus spokesperson Mike Sabatini could not guarantee that would not happen. Because this is a renovation rather than a tear-down and rebuild, he said, there could always be surprises as walls and ceilings are opened up and the underlying infrastructure revealed.
At the same meeting, the commission selected Gilbane Building Company as the project’s construction manager. With the schematic designs approved by the commission, detailed design work can begin, and, as Deputy City Manager Douglas Hutchens said in a memo to the commission, there may be more compromises ahead.
“Finding the balance between appearances, lasting durability and fan amenities are the challenges imposed upon the architect, contractor and project team,” he wrote.
In a recent e-mail, Mr. Hutchens said design work is 30 per cent complete. Work on the PDS will begin next February with demolition and site preparation, and the city is confident the stadium itself will be completed in time for spring training 2020.