Local leaders in West Palm Beach are looking forward to hundreds of jobs and a fatter economy from a proposed $135 million spring training baseball stadium that's nearing approval on a couple of fronts.
But, they say, they'll give it up in a minute if scientists find it’s a threat to their drinking water.
"If the studies show any concerns, we will not move forward, " West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio promised the county's legislative delegation at a hearing late last week. The local lawmakers went on to vote unanimously in favor of a local bill that would allow substantial reductions in a protective zone bordering a drinking water canal on the 160-acre stadium site at 45th Street and Haverhill Road.
Shrinking the protective zone would make room for parking on the former landfill site, stadium backers say. They also argue that drainage improvements as a result of the stadium project will actually enhance the safety of the water supply. No objections based on protecting the water supply were made during Friday's delegation hearing.
The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are expected to move to the new stadium from their current Florida spring training headquarters, re-establishing Grapefruit League baseball in West Palm Beach for the first time since the Montreal Expos and Atlanta Braves left in 1997.
"We’re going to get tremendous amounts of job creation as a result of it, and hopefully increase our tourist industry," said State Rep. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach), who will sponsor the bill during the legislative session that begins March 3.
According to projections, the stadium would generate about 600 new jobs and a yearly countywide economic impact of up to $170 million.
The unanimous delegation vote for the stadium only means a united front as local senators and representatives lobby the full Legislature to pass the bill. A final vote is not expected until late April or early May, and that's plenty of time for an environmental study to determine whether reducing the protective buffer from 450 to 50 feet endangers the local drilling water.
The financing plan is mostly in place. Palm Beach County will provide $5 million in cash plus revenue from a $108 million bond issue supported mostly by hotel room taxes. The Astros and the Nationals will each pay $2.5 million a year for 30 years. The rest of the money will come from the city.