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Orioles a step closer to choosing a venue for Spring Training (UPDATED)

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Last night, the city of Sarasota voted to back Sarasota county's attempt to lure the Birds back to Ed Smith stadium, where they played from 1989-1991. The stadium was most recently the ST home of the Cincinnati Reds, but the Reds will be in joining the Cactus League in 2010, playing in Goodyear, AZ.

County Commissioner Shannon Staub said she was ready to say goodbye to baseball Wednesday. Then about two hours before commissioners were slated to talk about a deal that appeared to be all but doomed, the team’s lawyer called Staub and county officials to say that a less-expensive renovation of Ed Smith Stadium was "in the ballpark," said Deputy County Administrator David Bullock.

Previously, the county had rejected a $56 million offer and made a counteroffer of $33 million, which the team rejected. Commissioner Nora Patterson pointed out that the Orioles are willing to come down nearly $30 million from early talks.

"We are now at half of what they refused earlier," said Patterson, as commissioners voted to continue negotiations with the team.

Sarasota's main competition for the Orioles is Fort Myers, which would have the Orioles move into the City of Palms park in 2012 after it is vacated by the Boston Red Sox. At present, Lee county officials are waiting on a draft agreement from the Orioles. 

This article highlights some of the differences in the deals: Fort Myers offers better proximity to other ST teams (Red Sox, Twins, Rays), a younger (15 years old) and more modern stadium (with many weather-protected seats and a "party deck"),  and $1M lower annual operating costs. But Sarasota's $28M offer would give Ed Smith Stadium (20 years old, and "the Cadillac of Spring Training Facilities" according to its website) a good facelift, including the likely addition of a "party deck"; and since it sits on 50 acres, there is room around it to build practice ballfields, something the Orioles are seeking in an effort to make their player development more cohesive. In Fort Myers, the practice fields are a mile away.

Since it was the Orioles who called at the last minute (and agreed a lower number, no less), it would seem they are now seriously considering Sarasota's offer. As part of the offer Sarasota officials have demanded that the Orioles begin negotiating exclusively with them (i.e., cut off talks with other teams) by Friday, May 22 (three days from now). 

The Orioles have the option of standing pat and staying in Fort Lauderdale in 2010. However, if they decide they want to leave, they must exercise their out clause next month. 

UPDATE: The letter Sarasota sent to the Orioles is here