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Sox spring back

They will stay in Fort Myers

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / November 2, 2008
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The Red Sox' flirtation with moving their spring training site to Sarasota, Fla., has come to an end.

In the wake of Lee County's approval of a proposal for a new stadium last Tuesday, the team announced yesterday that it has signed an agreement that will keep the Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla., for at least 30 years.

"Our top-line goal is to create the best spring training environment and experience in all of major league baseball," Red Sox chief operating office Mike Dee said.

"That's a big statement, but we believe we have a great opportunity with a clean slate to start from the ground up and construct something that's not only a great experience while the games are going on, but we have a great deal of fans that show up [during workouts]."

The new stadium will have 9,999 seats, with standing room and berm seating that will increase capacity to 12,000.

City of Palms Park, where the Red Sox have played since 1993, has a capacity of 7,290.

One of the most important parts of the new facility for the Red Sox is that it will be a single-site facility. Currently, the Sox have minor league practice facilities in a different location. The new park will be a combined-site facility with six practice fields in addition to the stadium.

The combined-site facility played a role in the Sox' decision.

"It wasn't by itself a determining factor, but it was a contributing factor," said Dee.

In Sarasota, the Sox would have had separate locations as part of the Payne Park site. Other factors included appealing economic terms, access to hotels and shopping areas, and Southwest Florida International Airport's numerous direct flights from Boston.

The Red Sox will move into the new facility in 2012. The new stadium will be constructed to resemble Fenway. Dee added that, with the vacancy coming at City of Palms Park, the Sox were on board with Lee County attempting to lure a third team to the area, joining the Sox and Twins.

One piece that has not been determined is the site of the new park. Lee County is relying on local landowners to donate an 80-acre plot. According to Dee, proposals will be requested in the next week from developers on a site in southern Lee County. The Sox will have input on the site decision.

Though it seemed the Sox were headed to Sarasota, the costs associated with the new stadium there were not as favorable for them.

"It's fair to say discussions outside of Lee County heated up quickly," Dee said. "There was a period where primary discussions would have taken us out of Lee County, but the leadership demonstrated over the last eight weeks, three or four, really, speaks volumes about the way they feel about sports in general and the Red Sox.

"I don't think we were ever one foot out the door, but the Lee County folks would say they had to play catch up.

"There was just tremendous momentum and the county moved mountains between Sept. 15 [and now]. The more we looked around and the more the process moved forward, the more we became comfortable where we are."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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