Fifteen years after the Cincinnati Reds left the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, a major league ballpark may soon call Plant City home.
OK, so technically, it’s not an actual major league park, but it will look like one — albeit a smaller version.
After it received two request for proposals for a sale or long-term lease of Plant City Stadium, Plant City will enter negotiations with the lone bidder — Big League Dreams Inc.
The California-based company builds replicas of famous baseball stadiums, such as Boston’s Fenway Park, New York’s Yankee Stadium and Chicago’s Wrigley Field. The stadiums are designed to accommodate a variety of sports, including youth baseball, youth fast-pitch softball and adult slow-pitch softball. Currently, the company operates parks in California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas. If this deal goes through, Plant City will become the company’s first location in the Southeast.
The company makes its profits on renting the stadiums to teams and tournaments that want to use the replica stadiums and fields.
The Plant City Commission rejected April 22, a proposal from Big League Dreams, stating it lacked key information, specifically regarding the potential costs and benefits of the proposal to Plant City. The city then reissued its call for bids May 29, with responses due by 2 p.m. June 28. Again, Big League Dreams was the only bidder.
City Manager Greg Horwedel said the city still is not ready to move ahead with the proposal as submitted but plans to work with the company. The goal, he said, is to come to a “mutually-acceptable framework” on an agreement within 45 days.
The specifics of the proposal are not known at this time, but Big League Dreams is no stranger to having an interest in Plant City. The city approved in October 2011, a 30-year license agreement with the company. Before that approval, city staff spent 18 months reviewing Big League Dream’s operations in other states.
Under the agreement, Plant City would pay Big League Dreams a $450,000 licensing fee to ensure the company did not build a similar location within a 40-mile-by-30-mile oval around Plant City Stadium.
It is not yet known how those details would fit into a potential lease agreement, but it seems safe to say that if Big League Dreams comes to Plant City, it would be the only thing of its kind in the area, which could attract teams from all throughout Tampa Bay, Lakeland and Central Florida.
Baseball is huge here. The city has produced major league players, such as Kenny Rogers (Plant City High) and Ryan Raburn (Durant), as well as future stars, including Durant’s Tyler Danish.
But youth baseball really shines in Plant City. Year after year, Little League All-Star teams rack up district and sectional titles. The 11-12 team just won its third consecutive sectional tournament and hopes to follow suit in the state tournament on its quest to Williamsport, Pa., and the Little League World Series.
Although Big League Dreams offers options for adults, the focus is youth baseball and softball. The replica stadiums act as a novelty for young players, who may never get a chance to play in the real Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.
With the top-notch facilities in Plant City, the city already attracts large youth tournaments from organizations such as Global Sports Alliance. Plant City also is attractive to collegiate teams, as well, and has been the home to College Club Baseball’s spring training for the past several years.
Adding a replica big league ballpark to the mix will continue and grow that trend.
The lease of Plant City Stadium, a 6,700-seat facility that originally served as the spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds, also includes the Randy L. Larson Four-Plex. With an existing stadium and 75 total acres of property, Big League Dreams would have potential to add projects after adapting Plant City Stadium into one of its replica fields.
With this deal imminent, it seems that pro soccer in Plant City will come to an end.
VisionPro Sports Institute, which is leasing the stadium through at least August as the home venue for a United Soccer League professional team and three affiliate teams, decided not to make a proposal on the latest bid, after reportedly missing the deadline of the first bid.
I’ll have more on that in next week’s Show Me the Mauney.
In the meantime, we can all start envisioning what Plant City Stadium would look like with a green monster in left field or with ivy covering the outfield wall.