Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.

Twins proposed spring training renovations take shape in Fort Myers

Posted by: Phil Miller under Farm System, Twins fans, Twins management Updated: October 26, 2012 - 2:15 PM

The Twins spring training home in Fort Myers, Fla., would get a $45.5 million facelift, to renovate Hammond Stadium and enhance the surrounding facilities, with the team agreeing to a new 30-year lease, under a proposal presented today to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.

Hammond Stadium’s seating capacity would increase from 8,000 to 9,300, with wider concourses, renovated concession stands and rest rooms, a 360-degree walkway for fans around the field, and more shaded areas.

The Twins would pay $13.8 million toward the project, partly through an increase in rent from $300,000 to $500,000 per year, and through the construction of an on-site dormitory that would include 55 sleeping rooms for players and staff. The rest of the tab would be paid through a county bond issue, with the state of Florida kicking in $15 million over the course of the 30-year lease.

The Lee County Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the matter Nov. 6, and a report in the Fort Myers New Press quoted one commissioner who expects the measure to pass 4-to-1.

Bill Smith, the Twins former general manager who now works as a special assistant to the team’s president and GM, has been the Twins point person on the project and played a central role in the planning when the Lee County Sports Complex first opened for the Twins in 1991.

“We’re excited, we’re pleased,” Smith said. “We think there’s a very good package of improvements to the ballpark that will make this thing one of the best in the game.”

The new lease would take effect when the renovation is completed, and Smith said the Twins hope that’s in time for spring training in 2015.

The plans would add an additional practice field, build a new weight room on the major league side of the complex and add a hydrotherapy area.

“We have a great complex now, but it’s 22 years old, and there’s a lot of it that needs to be refreshed and remodeled,” Smith said. “And in addition to that, there’s a lot of things that have changed in the game over the last 22 years.”

Smith said the Tigers and Pirates are among the teams that have on-site dormitories in their spring training facilities.

The Twins want 55 rooms because that is a number they would use throughout the season with their Class A Florida State League affiliate and rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate both based in Fort Myers. During spring training, older minor-league players would still stay in local hotels.

“It’s much more than sleeping rooms,” Smith said. “It’s dining facilities which allow us to improve nutrition across the board in spring training and year-round for rookie players and our instructional league players.
“It’s meeting rooms and classrooms to help us improve education across the board for all players, not just for teaching English to foreign players.”

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