Plan in works to keep spring training teams in Florida

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OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - A new plan to help keep spring training teams in Florida could have a big impact in places like Osceola County, where talks are already under way about what will happen when the Houston Astros' contract expires.

It's about to become one of the best times of the year at the diner John Marple's family owns near Osceola County Stadium.

"Whenever spring training events happen here, we get really busy. The restaurant fills up," said Marple.

He said that's why  he pays close attention to any talks about the future of spring training.

"The economic impact is anywhere from $30 million to $50 million every year just for having them in town for the six weeks they're here," said Don Miers, sports facility manager for Osceola County Stadium.

Miers has worked with the Astros since they arrived in the 1980s. The team's current contract will expire in 2016, but Miers said now is the time to work on what happens next.

"Just like any community in Florida, we have to keep up with the Joneses. What was great 16 years ago or 12 years when we did this lease is different now," said Miers.

The Florida Sports Foundation is working to make sure money is in place for counties like Osceola to compete.

If lawmakers approve, a trust fund would be created just for counties with spring training teams. That money would be used for stadium renovations to keep teams or lure in new teams.

Some of the money for that fund could come from the sales tax -- things patrons buy at the games, everything from food to tee-shirts.

Leaders said the idea could help keep Florida competitive against states that want what these teams generate.

According to the state, 1.5 million people attend spring training games statewide every season. The economic impact is $750 million that trickles down to places like the Rodeo Diner.

"It helps a lot of businesses, the mom-and-pop businesses just like our own," said Marple.

The Florida Sports Foundation said state officials would oversee the trust fund and a cap would be set so one county doesn't receive more money than another.