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Developer: I will work with Dodgertown


Lakeland-based developer Mark Hulbert said he’ll provide the overflow parking area Historic Dodgertown needs to accommodate big-crowd events if the Vero Beach City Council sells him the long-idle, golf-course property immediately west of the sports complex.

“I’m willing to put it in writing,” Hulbert told Vero Beach 32963 last week, emphatically adding, “for perpetuity.”

In fact, Hulbert shared his desire to cooperate with Indian River County, which owns the adjacent Historic Dodgertown grounds, in a Sept. 4 email sent to County Administrator Jason Brown.

Hulbert wrote that he wanted to “express publicly my commitment to working out an agreement with the county, should it be necessary to meet the needs of Major League Baseball.”

County officials are backing an effort by Peter O’Malley, the former Los Angeles Dodgers owner and now chief executive officer of Historic Dodgertown, to bring in Major League Baseball to take over the facility’s operations.

Dodgertown was the Dodgers’ spring training camp for more than 60 years and is loaded with baseball history that makes it attractive to Major League Baseball. O’Malley, who will turn 81 in December, said it’s unlikely MLB would agree to succeed him in Vero Beach without a guarantee from the county that the overflow-parking area would be available for big-crowd events, such as concerts, festivals and sports contests, especially baseball games.

He then warned that the county’s failure to make a deal with MLB could “jeopardize” the future of Historic Dodgertown and the year-round boost the complex’s training facilities, tournaments, business conferences and other activities provide the local economy.

Hulbert has submitted a proposal – including a site plan – to develop the former Dodgertown Golf Club property into a pedestrian-friendly “urban village” that would feature high-end retail shops, restaurants, office buildings, a hotel and green space.

He first offered $2.1 million, and then upped his bid to $2.43 million after the county jumped in earlier this month with its own $2.4-million offer – which came in response to O’Malley’s warning that the MLB deal could hinge on having land available for overflow parking.

Hulbert said he was surprised by the county’s interest in the property, but firmly added: “I will not get into a bidding war.”

Hulbert said he still plans to pursue the purchase and will attend the Oct. 2 meeting at which the City Council could decide the fate of the land, which some in the community would like to see developed into a public park.

However, Mayor Harry Howle and councilmen Lange Sykes and Val Zudans would like to see the property developed into an entity compatible with Historic Dodgertown – but one that would also generate much-needed tax revenue.

“I know there are a lot of people who want to preserve the grassy knoll, but there are also a lot of people who like our idea,” Hulbert said. “I guess we need some of those people to say nice things about us, because I think the county has confused the public.

“What the county is talking about is extremely inconsistent with what the city wants to do with that property, where nothing is being done,” he added. “We’re going to bring in hundreds of jobs, enhance the place with beautiful architecture and green space, and create a place where the people enjoying Dodgertown can flow into.

“What we want to do makes sense.”

City Manager Jim O’Connor said last week he had not seen Hulbert’s email to Brown, but he said the developer has steadfastly expressed a desire to work with the county and accommodate Historic Dodgertown’s needs.

“He has told me all along that he wants to be a good neighbor,” O’Connor said, “and do what’s best for Vero.”

Hulbert said his sentiment hasn’t changed.

“This is a win-win situation,” Hulbert said. “Dodgertown would get all the parking it needs when it needs it, and we’d benefit, too, because the people who go to Dodgertown for those events will be our patrons.