Cost of Tigers' spring training facility upgrade jumps $7.2 million
16 February 2017
The Detroit Tigers' pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this week amid a sprawling $48 million taxpayer-funded renovation of the team's "Tiger Town" facility in Lakeland, Fla.
That's an increase of more than $7 million, or 17.6 percent, from the project's original $40.2 price tag when the renovation of Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium began a year ago.
The increased spending included $2.4 million for the "Corona Cabana" bar (done in the stadium's Spanish Mediterranean aesthetic) situated on the outfield berm underneath a new scoreboard, both of which were part of $3 million provided by Lakeland-based supermarket chain Publix Super Markets Inc. in a naming rights deal signed last August, said Bob Donahay, director of Lakeland Parks and Recreation.
"It was pretty expensive, but it was the 'wow' factor we needed in our stadium. It's totally upscale," he told Crain's on Wednesday. "This is the nicest spring training facility in Florida."
Another $4.2 million was provided by the city of Lakeland to pay for two elevators, a roof over seating along the third baseline, electrical upgrades on the concourse and $500,000 worth of sound system speakers.
The additional roofing makes the 9,568-seat ballpark one of the most shaded in Florida, and was a priority because of the many senior citizens who travel south to see the team in spring training, Donahay said. He noted that 24 fans were treated for heat- and sun-related issues in a two-game span last spring.
"It was a necessity," he said. "We want those folks to have a pleasurable experience."
The stadium renovation project included construction of a three-story, 72,000-square-foot building along the right field line of the stadium that includes a new clubhouse, major and minor league administrative offices, a new high-def scoreboard, new and better seating, additional bathrooms, new turf, a larger press box, more concessions sales points, an observation tower, an air-conditioned batting cage building, and player development area boasting state-of-the-art rehabilitation space, hydrotherapy pools and weight room.
The project replaced 2,900 open-air grandstand seats along Joker Marchant's third-base line with 2,800 shaded armchair seats. The seats will be shaded by a continuation of existing stadium roof. The stadium's six suites were reduced to five 16-person suites, but one of the suites is three times the size of the others, with space for more than 50 people.
Handling the work are Southfield-based construction manager Barton Malow Co. and Rodda Construction Inc. of Lakeland. All major construction is finished, the team said, and workers are wrapping up minor things such as final coats of paint.
The initial construction cost estimate was $37 million. Of that, $20 million will be paid via state grants, $14.6 million comes from a Polk County hotel tax and $2.4 million comes from the city. Problems with the soil added $3.8 million to the project cost, which is being covered by the city. The additional $7.2 million over the past year was covered by the city and Publix, which is one of the nation's largest grocery chains.
The Tigers and the city of Lakeland signed a 20-year contract in January 2015 that began with spring training in 2016. The deal calls for the Tigers and city to split revenue from any naming rights deal for the stadium. The ratio wasn't disclosed. In August, Publix agreed to pay $3 million over 15 years for naming rights. The deal began on Feb. 9 and runs through 2036.
The team pays the city of Lakeland a $530,000 annual lease fee for the facility, long known informally as Tiger Town. By contrast, the club pays $1 a year to the Detroit-Wayne County Stadium Authority for the 35-year lease at Comerica Park that began in 2000 (and then will pay $1 million annually for each of the six 10-year lease extension options exercised).
The Tigers also pay the annual operation costs at Tiger Town, which run about $1 million annually for such facilities.
The city previously estimated the Tigers and their Lakeland operations generate at least $47 million a year in local economic impact.
Joker Marchant was built by the city for $360,000 and opened in 1966; the Tigers have played there since it opened. It is named for a city parks and recreation director, Marcus Thigpen Marchant, who was nicknamed "Joker" and was instrumental in the creation of Tiger Town.
The stadium is also home to the Lakeland Flying Tigers, which is Detroit's Single-A affiliate in the Florida State League.
Detroit has held its annual spring training practices in Lakeland since 1934, when they were headquartered at Henley Field Park.
The stadium also underwent a $10 million renovation in 2003, and a $300,000 digital scoreboard was added in 2004 after Hurricane Jeanne did $1 million worth of damage to the ballpark.
The Tigers open spring training play at 1:05 p.m. Feb. 23 against Florida Southern College at Joker Marchant, and play their first Major League opponent in Lakeland at 1:05 p.m. Feb. 24 against the Baltimore Orioles.
Spring training game tickets at Joker Marchant range in price from $15 to $32, slight increases over last year.