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Reds moving spring home to Arizona

Reds moving spring home to Arizona

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CINCINNATI -- A deal for the Reds to hold Spring Training in the desert is done.

The biggest hurdle remaining was for the Goodyear, Ariz., city council to approve a memorandum of understanding that would fund $32 million to bring the Reds west.

That approval came Monday night in a 6-0 vote.

Former chief operating officer John Allen, who served as the Reds' point man in negotiations with Goodyear, was on hand for the vote and spoke at the council meeting.

"This memorandum is a committment by the Reds and the city that we'll do this thing," Allen said by phone from Arizona.

The Reds and Goodyear have until June 30 to enter into a binding use agreement that includes a 20-year lease and two five-year team options. That is viewed as a formality at this point.

"We've already agreed in principle to everything that's in there," Allen said. "It's mirrored after the Indians' use agreement."

The groundbreaking for the Reds' portion of the facilities tentatively is scheduled for Feb. 1, 2009. The Reds are slated to begin Spring Training in Goodyear in 2010. The Indians will move camp from Winter Haven, Fla., to Goodyear next spring.

"The proposed facilities in Goodyear are going to be some of the best in baseball," Reds owner/CEO Bob Castellini said in a statement. "We look forward to a working relationship with the city that will help our team prepare for the start of the Major League season every year."

The joint Reds-Indians construction project will cost an estimated $108 million. The two teams will share a 10,000-seat stadium, but will have separate offices, practice fields and clubhouses. The Reds' clubhouse would be a minimum of 38,000 square feet.

Goodyear, which is located 20 minutes west of Phoenix, plans to use the Reds-Indians facility as the centerpiece of a $1 billion mixed-use development featuring offices, shops, restaurants, housing, hotels and a conference center.

Public improvement corporation bonds will help cover the $32 million to bring the Reds to Goodyear, with annual payments that cost the city $1.5 million. There is also an option to raise the city's hotel bed tax by one percent. The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority has a tentative agreement to secure two-thirds of the project costs, assuming its tenure is extended beyond the year 2031.

The cost to the Reds will be an annual rent payment that starts $100,000 and increases yearly based on the consumer price index. When they move to Arizona, the Reds will become the 15th team to play in the Cactus League.

Although the city council vote was unanimous, with one member that recused himself, there had been some opposition in recent weeks. But the funding plan and expectations of improved infrastructure swayed some votes to the affirmative.

"A month ago, I had the most concern," said council member Joanne Osbourne. "I had hard questions. I didn't have answers. Fortunately a week ago, those answers were given."

"I was one of those people sitting on the fence," council member Georgia Lord said. "People called me, e-mailed me and stopped me in church. They were all positive. This period of time has been really enlightening to me."

With the exception of a three-year period during World War II, the Reds have trained in Florida since 1923. The club has called Sarasota its spring home since 1998, but that lease expires in October. It carries three one-year options that can extend the stay.

Sarasota was always the preferred choice for the Reds, and Allen spent about six years trying to get a deal done. But the club was repeatedly rebuffed during efforts to replace or renovate Ed Smith Stadium. A public referendum for funding renovations was not passed by voters in November. Alternative funding attempts through the Sarasota County Commission was delayed on multiple occasions.

The Florida plan would have called for the Reds to contribute $10 million. By the time Sarasota's County Commission finally approved $17.6 million of the $41 million needed for renovations, it was too little, too late.

On Jan. 30, the Reds and Goodyear entered into a 75-day, exclusivity period to negotiate an agreement. On March 12, the city council identified project funding. And on Monday, it all came together.

"It amazes me that we did it in 10 weeks," Allen said. "The bottom line is we're moving to a brand-new, state of the art facility for Spring Training in 2010."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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