Homestead finally attracts spring training of sports
By Jaime Levy
For 10 days this month, the Homestead Sports Complex will be used for its intended purpose: baseball spring training.
But the 138-acre, city-owned site will not be a home to the big leagues. Instead of Homestead's early-1990s dreams of Major League Baseball, the five practice fields will be used by the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Clubs, an independent eight-team league based in Camden, NJ.
From April 21-30, the league will bring up to 250 players and 40 staff members to Homestead, whose sports complex has five full practice baseball fields, a 114-room dormitory and a 6,500-seat stadium. In the past, the Atlantic League's teams - which include the Atlantic City Surf, the Long Island Ducks and the Newark Bears - have trained at Baseball City in Davenport, FL. But that complex, also used by the Kansas City Royals, was sold, leaving the league without a practice site.
The city last week signed a contract with the league, which will rent the facilities for $40,000, said Homestead spokesman Charles LaPradd.
The Homestead Sports Complex, built in 1991 as a home for the Cleveland Indians' spring training camp, was destroyed by 1992's Hurricane Andrew and subsequently rebuilt. By then, the Indians had decided to train elsewhere, leaving the facility without a permanent tenant. The complex has since hosted special events and flirted with becoming home to the US Soccer Federation's training program but has not yet found a long-term resident. It costs the city about $500,000 a year to maintain.
Now, the city has requested proposals for "the marketing, managing or sale of the Homestead Sports Complex." After one extension, the process now closes at 10 a.m. April 12. Joe Klein, executive director of the Atlantic League, said his organization - which votes each year on whether to have spring training - would consider coming to Homestead annually.
"We've looked at a long-term relationship with Homestead," he said. "We look forward to seeing how the relationship develops this spring."
In Central Florida, where the Indians and the Detroit Tigers also hold spring training, the loss of the Royals will be much more acutely felt than the Atlantic League's transfer, said Ron Burchfield, past president of the Haines City Chamber of Commerce. The city neighbors Davenport, where Baseball City is located.
"The Royals are a big deal. (As for the Atlantic League), we had a hard time giving those tickets away. People didn't attend," Mr. Burchfield said. "Most people go back home after the Royals or Indians or Tigers complete their spring training."
Still, said Mr. LaPradd, "We believe it will be a significant economic impact because you'll have players and some of the families coming down. They'll go to restaurants and stores. I'm not sure what the economic impact will be, but I believe it will be a positive economic impact."