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County’s Dodgertown deal with MLB gives Vero leverage in parking negotiations


If county officials want to make sure they can use Vero Beach-owned properties adjacent to Historic Dodgertown to provide the 2,000 parking spaces required in their long-term lease with Major League Baseball, they’ll probably need to pay for them.

City officials say the overflow parking spaces, particularly those available on the former Dodgertown Golf Club property to the immediate west, are available for rent.

They’re not for sale – not for the $2.4 million the county offered for the golf-course property in October, anyway.

“The city sees the potential for that property as a revenue-producing piece of ground,” City Manager Jim O’Connor said. “So selling the entire tract to the county at that price doesn’t make sense, because it doesn’t generate an ongoing revenue stream for us.

“If we leased the spaces to the county, however, that’s a recurring revenue stream.”

For example, O’Connor said, the city could raise $400,000 annually by leasing 2,000 spaces – using a section of the golf-course property, city-owned lots north of Aviation Boulevard and fields at the Vero Beach Regional Airport – for $200 per space per year.

Another possibility is for the county to offset the costs of leasing the parking spaces it needs by finally agreeing to give to the city the share of local tourism and hotel tax revenues Vero Beach officials have been seeking for years.

In fact, both O’Connor and City Council member Laura Moss said the city’s pursuit of tourism tax money is likely to be included in any discussion of parking between the parties.

“We want Major League Baseball to succeed here,” O’Connor said, “so now that the county has a long-term lease, we’d like to sit down with them and negotiate something that works for everyone.”

County Administrator Jason Brown said last week he plans to reach out to O’Connor after the holidays to further discuss the Historic Dodgertown parking issue and ensure that the county can use city property to meet the terms of its lease with MLB.

“We need to make sure the parking situation is resolved, and we’re agreeable to working with the city on something that’s beneficial to everyone in the community,” Brown said, adding that much of Historic Dodgertown’s impact on the local economy benefits businesses in Vero Beach.

“We made them an offer to buy the [golf-course] property and they haven’t accepted it,” Brown continued. “That was one possible solution, but there are others. I’m hopeful we’ll find one.”

According to O’Connor, an existing agreement allows the county, free of charge, to use the golf-course property to accommodate overflow parking from big-crowd events at Historic Dodgertown’s Holman Stadium. However, the city may terminate the agreement if it finds a better use for the property.

The City Council voted 3-2 in October to not sell the 35-acre golf-course tract, rejecting offers from the county as well as from developers who wanted to build an “urban market” that included a hotel, restaurants and office space in a park-like setting where more than 40 percent of the property would be green space.

In making his pitch, Brown told the council the county had no plans to develop the property, but he said the county would not accept a deed restriction that prevented future development.

The developers – a partnership between Lakeland-based builder Mark Hulbert and Vero Beach resident Terry Borcheller – said their planned development complemented Historic Dodgertown and they agreed to provide as many as 500 parking spaces when MLB needed them.

Borcheller said last week he and Hulbert still haven’t given up on the project, and they’re waiting for a new City Council to be seated in late February.

“Once the City Council gets straightened out, we’ll try again, but we’re literally one conversation away from walking,” Borcheller said. “If the new council says no, we’re done, which would be sad for this community.

Mayor Harry Howle and Councilman Val Zudans still support development of the golf-course property, and both liked the Hulbert-Borcheller plan, the fate of which likely will be decided by the special election.

Moss, who led the opposition to the sale, still favors keeping the property, which has remained vacant since the golf course was closed in 2004, as green space.

“That’s why the City Council purchased that property in 2005,” said Moss, who was joined by Tony Young and Lange Sykes in opposing the sale. “I’ve spoken with three of the four surviving members of the 2005 council, and they haven’t changed their opinion.

“As far as I’m concerned – and as the top vote getter in the November election, I have a mandate from the people of Vero Beach – open space will be a defining characteristic of that property,” she added.  “We need to preserve open space.”

Earlier this month, Zudans floated a plan to sell the golf-course property to the Hulbert-Borcheller partnership with the proviso they provide Historic Dodgertown with 500 parking spaces when needed, and sign a long-term lease allowing the county to use the parking lots north of Aviation Boulevard – as well as the airport fields with shuttles running to and from Historic Dodgertown – to provide the 2,000 spaces required in the agreement with MLB.

“The county having a deal with Major League Baseball should make it more likely that the city and county can get together and work out a mutually beneficial agreement, so the county can meet the terms of its lease,” Zudans said.

As for those opposed to developing the parcel, Zudans said: “We’ll never please the people who want to keep it a vacant lot.”

O’Connor said he’s surprised Hulbert and Borcheller have “hung in there as long as they have,” adding, “and I appreciate that.”

He also appreciates the county’s need to resolve the parking situation with the city.

“If I were in their shoes, I’d want to amend that parking agreement, too,” O’Connor said.

“Otherwise, I’d have to start looking for places on their property to put a parking area.”