Fort Myers baseball stadium earns only 1 percent of expenses in 2015

Reporter: Lauren Sweeney
Published: Updated:
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — City of Palms Park, the former spring training home of the Boston Red Sox, was once the crown jewel for bringing tourists into the city of Fort Myers.

So many fans were pouring into downtown Fort Myers in the ’90s and early 2000s that the city decided to enter into an agreement with Lee County.

The city decided in 2003 to deed the park over to the county with the agreement that the city would continue to pay out the remainder of $24.7 million bonds used to build the facility.

“We gave it to the county thinking the Red Sox would be here a little longer, but it relieved us of about a million dollar operation it cost us to operate and run the stadium,” said Fort Myers Ward 4 City Council Member Michael Flanders.

Flanders, an architect by trade, said he personally flew to Washington D.C. in an attempt to attract the Nationals to come to Fort Myers after the decision had been made that Jet Blue Park would be built in Lee County for the Red Sox.

The Nationals, according to Flanders, wanted upgrades to the park, which included player housing, and Lee County wasn’t willing to split those costs with the City of Fort Myers at the time.

“The city was left without any conditions for this stadium once the Red Sox left,” Flanders said.

The city will continue to pay more than $1 million dollars a year on the bond while any revenue collected directly by the park goes to the county until 2022.

The cost benefit analysis for 2015 revealed that the park cost more than $462,000 to maintain, yet only brought in a little over $6,000 in revenue.

The revenue on the park has increased to an estimated $30,000 in 2016 due to a contract with Florida Southwestern State College. The school pays the county $1,000 a month for both its baseball and softball teams to practice and play games. The county also collects on ticket sales and concessions sold at FSW games.

The county also provided information showing that the expenses on the facility totaled more than $372,000 through the end of August.

The county declined to do an interview regarding the park. Instead, a spokesperson provide a statement attributed to assistant county manager Dave Harner:

“The City of Palms Park is but one venue in our sports tourism portfolio and has successfully helped us gain an additional share of the sports tourism market.”

For 2015, the Lee County Sports Development office reported that Lee County’s total economic benefit was more than $61 million. An estimated $11 million of that amount came from the three-weeks long Roy Hobbs World series, an amateur tournament which is played at City of Palms Park as well as the county’s other major league sports complexes.

City of Palms is utilized for several tournaments throughout the year, and a county provided breakdown on days of use showed more than 80 days for tournament play.

“You’d be hard-pressed to say that the existence of that stadium in its current location has had a positive impact on that neighborhood around it,” said Christopher Westley, an economics professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Wesley has studied publicly funded sports stadiums around the nation.

Tournaments in Florida often pay little or no rent to use government-run ballparks as long as tournament organizers can promise to book enough hotel rooms.

“There’s a strong incentive for governments, especially in Florida to engage in that kind of activity,” Westley said.

Lee County Communications Director Betsy Clayton, a county spokesperson, said that all the municipalities benefit from the tourism tax paid at hotels because the dollars go to the visitor and convention bureau’s marketing budget.

“In fact, more than half the dollars received by VCB are devoted to marketing the county and its six municipalities,” Clayton wrote in an email.

It’s unlikely the majority of the days City of Palms Park is used are bringing any tourist revenues into Lee County. FSW baseball and softball either practiced or played a game there only 162 days in the last year.

“I went to some of the first few (games) they played and it was wonderful you could pick your seat and sit anywhere you want, but there was only three or four hundred people in the whole park,” Flanders said of the stadium designed to seat over 8,000 people.

He hopes the county will consider bringing more community events to the park that will benefit the city as much as they benefit the county.

If anyone has ideas for events at City of Palms Park, email reporter Lauren Sweeney at

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