Ocala is a step closer to its field of dreams.
Project Home Run, two years in the making, would move the Yankee’s Tampa Class A affiliate minor-league team to Ocala in a possibly soon-to-constructed stadium. The move would not change the location of the Yankee’s spring training in Tampa.
[doclink to="http://ocalafl.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_LegiFile.aspx?Frame=&MeetingID=1594&MediaPosition=&ID=6212&CssClass="][/doclink]The purchase and sale agreement with Ocala Trophy Ltd., owners of the land where the proposed stadium would be built, was also approved.
City manager Matthew Brower suggested a delay in approving three documents — the interlocal agreement, lease and quit claim deed for Marion County’s stadium ownership. He did so to allow more time for Marion County commissioners to review the agreements.
Ocala City Council members could then approve the agreements with the County’s consent.
“It’s about economic development, tourism enhancement and jobs creation,” Brower said.
The agreement permits Marion County to take on a half-cent tax for five years to raise funds for the stadium’s purchase and construction. The county would own the stadium and need to purchase the land where the stadium would be built.
The five-year tax would raise nearly $83 million, up to $60 million of which would be dedicated to the $53 million stadium project cost.
Two Ocala residents took to the podium to share their opinions against the stadium’s construction. Both expressed concern about how to pay for the project.
No residents spoke out in favor of the project, but Marvin Smollar, vice president of Ocala Trophy, expressed support for the stadium.
“For its economic development,” Smollar said, “for its attractions, for its homeowners and residents to have a … baseball team supported by the Yankees is a feather in the city’s cap and should be highly endorsed by all of its residents.”
Smollar said he was happy with the council’s vote, and the next test will be the commissioner’s meeting.
Marion County Commissioners will meet Nov. 21 in commissioner chambers to review the agreements, which total more than 900 pages.
Brower said the Yankees organization has already approved the agreement.
The county would need to purchase the property by Dec. 31 — a deadline three months ahead of a public special referendum vote. If commissioners and council members sign off on the referendum, Ocala residents would have to vote to approve it before March 31.
If they did, the process would move quickly: construction would start in August, and the first pitch would be expected in spring 2016.
For Douglas Shearer and others in opposition, there’s a hitch in that sequence.
“Their timeline makes no sense. They are going to buy this property,” Shearer said, “before we even vote on whether we’re going to raise the money to build a stadium on it.”
The city’s request for the county, including the purchase and referendum vote, is detailed on slide 31 of Tuesday’s presentation.
Clarification appended: A previous version of this story said the five-year tax would raise $60 million. The total tax revenue is closer to $83 million, $60 million of which would be dedicated to the stadium project cost.