Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Sun Sentinel.
Ballparks are big business in Palm Beach County — but a double whammy threatens to put a major dent in county coffers.
First, COVID-19 has already slammed tourism. Second, a long delay in renovating Jupiter’s Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium might mean the county missing out on millions in potential revenue.
The $108 million project was approved more than 19 months ago. However, it might be four or five years before the spring training home for the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals gets it promised upgrade, a county official told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
The pandemic has “certainly put a strain on us being able to resurrect [the project] and move forward on this right away,” said Glenn Jergensen, director of the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council.
Over the past 20 years, spring training baseball has been a major economic driver for the county, generating more than $70 million of economic impact in 2019, according to a study conducted by the research group of Downs & St. Germain. Over 270,000 fans watched spring training games that year.
Every year in February and March, thousands of baseball enthusiasts descend upon Jupiter to catch an up-close look of the Cardinals and Marlins at the 7,000-seat stadium.
Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium also has minor league baseball from April to September, hosting the Marlins and Cardinals’ Low-A affiliates, which generated more than 16,000 hotel room nights in Palm Beach County, according to the study.
Additionally, the ballparks have been an attractive destination for amateur baseball tournaments, drawing hundreds of teams into the county and generating at least $25 million in 2019.
But with COVID-19 hammering tourism, funding has dried up for the ballpark upgrades, which have been put on the back burner. Palm Beach County saw a 20% dip last year in “bed tax” dollars, which are taxes associated with hotel rooms and short-term rentals, and constitute the majority of the project’s funding.
That’s placed the county in “recovery mode,” said Jergensen, who added that the county had to dip into its reserves last year. As a result, it could be 2025 or 2026 before work actually begins on the stadium, which hasn’t seen any major renovations since opening in 1998.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
“We brought in $54 million worth of bed taxes in 2019. We brought in $43 million in 2020, so that is the impact of the pandemic,” Jergensen said. “Right now, our latest forecast for 2021 is $45 million, so we’re still down almost $9 million in collections from 2019.
“As soon as we’re comfortable that our revenues are where they need to be and our reserves are where they need to be, it’s something we still plan on doing.”
Stadium renovations are necessary to keep fans and tournaments coming back to Jupiter, county officials said. The planned upgrades include replacing the scoreboard; updating the sound system, which is currently inaudible in most of the stadium; adding free Wi-Fi throughout the facility; and constructing specific areas in the stadiums for large groups, according to county documents.
While there’s no set timetable for the renovations, there is a deadline of sorts. The Cardinals’ and Marlins’ lease at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium expires in 2027, meaning it would likely be necessary for a deal to be done before the teams sign an extension with the county. Prior to the delay, the plan was for both teams to extend through 2048.
A Miami Marlins spokesman said the team “looks forward to continuing constructive conversation with Palm Beach County officials, including exploring if upgrades can be completed in stages.” A Cardinals spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.