Caught up with Bill DeWitt III, president of the St. Louis Cardinals, for his thoughts on the proposed West Palm Beach spring training stadium and the future of the Cardinals in Jupiter.
Here’s an edited transcript of my interview:
What’s your reaction to the progress made by Palm Beach County and the city of West Palm Beach to open a second spring training complex in the county?
“We are pleased the Astros and Nationals are working towards finalizing that deal. We need teams to play on the east coast and this is a great location for us in terms of spring training. We are happy to see it progress.
“As we look well out into the future, we want to stay in southeast Florida and this is obviously a big step in that direction for us in terms of how we look at it long term.’’
It’s also important for the county to get the Cardinals and Marlins to extend their leases to 2045, the same year the proposed lease by the Astros and Nationals would expire.
“We have kind of gotten that sense that they want to lock up those two teams for a long period of time as part of the new ballpark and then they would turn their attention to us. So we are open to that.
“We don’t really know what that would look like. But it’s hard to believe we have been there going on 18 years. There are things we’d like to improve on and we are watching the development adjacent to and everywhere around the ballpark carefully as it relates to the fan experience. Parking is one issue and some other things.
“We obviously love it. We’d love to stay and we’d love to extend but I think we need to wait and see a little bit more before we even start talking about that stuff…
“All those things that hopefully will come into play will set the stage for something that we can work on with the county.’’
What do you think about the development of Abacoa?
“It is interesting. It has been fun for our fans. It’s a nice residential community. Obviously the retail has gone through some cycles and seems to be picking up yet again with the new proposal for some additional retail.
“I look at it really as our fan experience. We come down and visit. Many of us, for example in the ownership group, some of us have places down here. All of that good is for the Cardinals and baseball and for Cardinals fans coming down.’’
In terms of attendance, the Cardinals clearly are the main attraction at Roger Dean Stadium. That will give the team leverage when it sits down with the county to talk about upgrades at the stadium as part of the negotiations on a long-term lease extension. (The Cardinals and Marlins plan to open negotiations around 2023).
“We are only in 2015. I can imagine by then there will be some things we need to do.”
For now, though, the Cardinals and Marlins are only willing to commit to Roger Dean Stadium through 2027.
“First, get the ballpark deal done with the other two teams and kind of take stock of what that means for us. In the meantime, we have done some work in terms of thinking about our facility here, but it’s very preliminary and, to be honest, I think we will probably get some ideas from the Astros and Nationals when we see what they come up with. Not that we need to copy what they do, but just in terms of what’s the state-of-the-art for spring training.’’
In 1998, Roger Dean Stadium was the latest “state-of-the-art” spring training stadium. But that was almost 20 years ago. The Cardinals, because of the team’s success and tradition and branding, will probably attract interest from other towns in Florida and Arizona 10 years from now.
“Cardinals fans, you see them when they come down here, staying in the hotels and going to the beaches and coming to the ballgames. It’s an amazing tradition. It is portable to some extent, but we’d just assume keep it here and keep it going in Jupiter.’’