Lee County commissioners recently approved a 30-year stadium lease agreement with the Minnesota Twins, based on the county's receipt of a state grant.
The Lee County Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of an agreement that extends the Twins' use of the Lee County Sports Complex for another 30 years. Lee County Commissioner Brian Bigelow dissented.
With an agreement in place, the county can now apply for a $15 million state grant that deadlines during the first week of July. If granted, the state funds would be used to pay for improvements and upgrades to the sports complex.
"It's so that we can apply to the state," Commissioner Tammy Hall said of the agreement approved Tuesday.
"This is a very preliminary lease," she said. "We have a long way to go yet with the Twins."
Commissioner Ray Judah explained that the agreement is predicated on whether the county receives the grant. If it does, the county could match up to the $15 million, depending on the availability of excess tourist dollars.
One cent out of every five cents collected for the county's bed tax is set aside for baseball, he said. The money could be used as matching funds.
"It's a 20-year-old stadium," Judah said. "There are improvements and upgrades that need to be made."
The Twins is seeking the construction of an elevated deck that would wrap around the stadium's outfield fences, accommodating about 2,500 additional standing and sitting fans, as well as equipment and training facility upgrades.
"So if you're in the stadium, you can walk the entire stadium," he said.
If the county does not receive the grant, the Twins organization has eight years left on its current agreement, with the option to renew for two five-year terms.
"And it would take longer to make those improvements," Judah said.
During Tuesday's meeting, the language in two sections of the proposed agreement was changed at Hall's prodding. She said it was for "flexibility."
"They were really just to give us more flexibility," Hall said.
According to Judah, the Twins included a player academy in its negotiations. The academy would consist of an auditorium for providing instructions to players, along with teaching English, as well as a cafeteria and a dormitory.
"That term was taken out of the lease agreement at this time," he said.
The second section involved lease payments. The Twins' current stadium agreement is for $300,000 annually. When the Boston Red Sox received its upgrade from the county, its payments rose from $300,000 to $500,000.
On Tuesday, the language was changed to note that the Twins' payments would jump to $500,000 when the upgrades were made by a certain time.
According to Hall, baseball feeds more than $25 million into Lee each year.
"We'd like to keep the Twins here in Lee County," she said.
"Baseball is a significant economic engine in Lee County," he said. "That translates into thousands of jobs and money that flows in."