Blue Jays, Dunedin government must find common ground


The Blue Jays have other negotiations to manage outside of Jose Bautista’s this spring, and extending their relationship in Dunedin should be a priority

The time is now for the Toronto Blue Jays and the city of Dunedin, Florida to reach an agreement that would extend their relationship into its fifth decade.

Toronto has called the small city just west of Tampa Bay home since joining the American League in 1977, and with their current contract set to expire at the end of 2017, both sides should be financially motivated to negotiate.

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Dunedin mayor Julie Ward Bujalski told The Canadian Baseball Network that having the Jays in Pinellas County and the Philadelphia Phillies in nearby Clearwater generates $80 million in annual revenue over just six weeks. This economic influx would not go unnoticed by the local government, and on some issues, that should nudge Dunedin to meet the organization past the halfway point.

A more sentimental factor should also drive the coming negotiations, as Toronto’s presence in Dunedin predates Annie Hall taking home an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Maintaining a relationship between Canada’s lone major league club and one of baseball’s smallest spring training markets with a population of just 36,000 is a unique fit that has grown well past basic familiarity. This goes for the Canadian fans, as well, many of whom have made the Dunedin pilgrimage a trip that is planned around each spring.

The challenge facing the two parties is that the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and Toronto’s surrounding training facilities are well below modern league standards. At minimum, a full renovation of existing facilities and construction of new infrastructure will be required, which has left many pointing to a partnership with another organization or a move to Arizona.

In Dunedin, though, the Blue Jays can already find stay-at-home comfort in their most motivated possible negotiating partner.

While gaining Toronto’s business would be attractive to other markets, Dunedin will be fighting to avoid the loss of something that has become truly theirs. The Blue Jays appetite for risk may leave them preferring to stay put, too, which showed in 2013 when a potential partnership with the Houston Astros on a $100 million facility failed to materialize.

According to the Palm Beach Post, Toronto withdrew late in the process over worry that excess costs would be placed on the organizations, not the local government. In Dunedin, a strong relationship exists already and those details can be negotiated intimately.

Toronto’s spring training facilities are in desperate need upgrades and modernization, but with the end of 2017 acting as a hard deadline to spur action, both the ball club and Dunedin government need to ensure that this home renovation project does not become a real estate hunt.