Yankees may bring minor league team to Ocala
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 1:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 1:43 p.m.
The city of Ocala announced Wednesday it is in discussion with the New York Yankees regarding the possible relocation of the Yankees' Class A Advanced affiliate minor league team currently located in Tampa.
Discussions do not include Yankees' spring training.
City Manager Matthew Brower said negotiations are still preliminary and the city is doing its "due diligence."
Asked about the location for a ballfield and other costs, Brower said, "It's still too early to get an understanding of what those costs are."
He said the location for a ballfield will determine, to a great extent, what the costs are.
"The Yankees have expressed an interest in a particular site, but I am unwilling to disclose that site because it may affect negotiations on that site," Brower said.
Asked when decisions about the project will be made, Brower said, "Some decision points will have to be made this winter."
He said there will be public meetings where the public can provide input.
Apparently, talks have been going on for quite some time.
Mayor Kent Guinn said Wednesday he had been approached about paying a fee to bring a team to Ocala. He said he has a relationship with people at Goldman Sachs and brought the proposal to New York City in May 2011 and asked them to review it.
"They said you can do this on your own," Guinn said.
One of the New York bond salesmen with whom he spoke, Greg Carey, was familiar with Ocala, having once sold Ocala's bonds years ago for another company.
"He was really kind to us and told us how we could do this," Guinn said.
Carey also helped arrange a meeting with the Yankees, which Guinn hosted at the Tampa Club on the 42nd floor of the Bank of America's building. Anthony Bruno, senior vice president/chief financial officer of Yankee Global Enterprises, attended that meeting to see if the ballclub would be interested.
"They took it to their people," Guinn said. "It's moved forward."
Bruno could not be reached Wednesday for comment. In a press release issued by the city, however, Bruno was quoted as saying, "Any proposal for relocation to Ocala is contingent upon approval by the Ocala City Council, Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the Florida State League."
Guinn said there was another meeting with the Yankees at Kinsman Stud Farms in Ocala. That farm is owned by the Steinbrenner family, which also owns the Yankees. Guinn said he got the Yankee contingent in front of City Council members individually and the matter was then turned over to Brower, who has been in negotiations ever since.
"I don't think they would have spent the time with us if they were not serious," Guinn said.
Asked what the next step might be, Guinn replied, "Figure out how it can be paid for."
None of the city officials reached Wednesday would disclose details of what the deal would entail.
"There will be a bricks and mortar field built somewhere. Somebody's going to pay for it," Guinn said. "We're trying to work out things like that."
City Council President Suzy Heinbockel said talks with the Yankees are "very preliminary."
"As a city council, there are projects that come to us that require a level of anonymity and we keep those to ourselves until such time as they are to be announced, and I have done that and I will continue to do that because that is part of my responsibility as a council member," Heinbockel said.
Regarding public notification, Heinbockel said, "There has been discussion about that and the public will be informed when those discussions are in a manner that is timely for the public to express their opinions about that, and those opinions and those thoughts will be taken very seriously, and any decisions about that will be made in a public forum. It will be done in the sunshine and with a tremendous amount of public comment and respect for that public comment and deep consideration for the community's wishes."
Councilman Jay Musleh also said it was early in the process.
"Jay Musleh the sports fan thinks it's a great idea," he said. "Jay Musleh the city councilman thinks it's a great idea, but how do you pay for it?"
He said he has been given "very, very limited amounts of information about the project.
"There has really been nothing discussed as to how much the Yankees are going to pay for and what is going to be the cost to taxpayers. Until you get to that point, it's kind of premature to talk about it," Musleh said.
But he did say he was not in favor of using property tax dollars to solidify the deal.
Councilman John McLeod said there is mutual interest.
"I think it would be a wonderful thing for the community but, again, we are just in the early talking stages," McLeod said. "They are the biggest brand out there. When you think baseball, you think the New York Yankees."
Council members Daniel Owen and Mary Sue Rich could not be reached for comment.
In 1990 there was an effort to bring the Yankees' spring training to Ocala, but voters rejected the 2 percent tourism development tax referendum that was needed to pay for the stadium.
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