DUNEDIN — The Toronto Blue Jays got to first base in their quest to provide hotel accommodations for their ballplayers, when the City Commission gave initial approval to a development agreement for the team to build Hotel J on the Dunedin Causeway.
The Hotel J project involves a three-story, 68-room boutique hotel at 491 and 469 Causeway Blvd., Assistant Director of Community Development Joseph DiPasqua told commissioners Feb. 3.
The hotel will consist of two floors of guest rooms over ground floor parking, plus the usual amenities such as meeting space, dining area, staff offices and laundry along with a ground floor swimming pool for guests.
Primary use of the new boutique hotel will be by the Toronto Blue Jays during spring training and the regular season. Only a small number of rooms will be available to the general public during certain times of the year, mainly two or three months from November to January. Most minor league team players staying at the hotel, who earn an average of $400 a week, will not have vehicles of their own. A bus will ferry baseball players from the hotel to training facilities and the stadium, he DiPasqua said.
Once the agreement if finalized, the project still has several steps to take, DiPasqua said, including design review and a Local Planning Agency hearing before returning to the commission for two more public hearings.
City Manager Jennifer Bramley said negotiations regarding the Blue Jays Hotel came down to density. She felt negotiators for the Blue Jays “truly wanted to do what was best for the team and Dunedin. The negotiation came down to a matter of density on the site, the permitted underlying density versus the density under a development agreement.”
During talks, “(The city) arrived at 68 units within the development, the Blue Jays really wanted 75,” she explained. “They felt 68 was the bare minimum that they would need in order to move forward, so staff agreed with that. As far as aesthetics go, they did make some changes to address adjacent residential communities, and address setbacks from the adjacent roadway, ingress, egress, and traffic circulation on the site.
“I think it was a very successful negotiation; the Blue Jays got the bare minimum density they needed, and the city got a well-designed hotel, as well as the crosswalk,” she explained. The crosswalk across the Dunedin Causeway is subject to county design review.
At the hearing, Commissioner Maureen Freaney told Blue Jays representatives, “You’re not getting all the units you want, you’re getting seven less than you want, and we’re probably giving a few more than we want, but I feel comfortable with where we’ve landed. I think it’s a good balance.”
She cited the Jays’ “huge commitment” to Dunedin, “and that’s a great thing. It’s been a great partnership and I’m glad you’ve been patient.”
Commissioner Jeff Gow said “the idea of having our spring training, your professional complex and housing here for baseball players is just a phenomenal and unique idea. I love the partnership.”
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski emphasized that there is still a long way to go before the hotel is constructed.
“I want to make sure everybody understands we’re not approving the project today, we’re far from that. We are simply approving the development agreement, so all of the design, and all the traffic analysis, the crosswalk, the public art and all that stuff, still has to go through its normal process and will come back to us and we’ll get to critique it all over again.”
Members of the public were also pleased with the plan.
Mark Maurer, a partner in the Sandbar Restaurant on the Causeway, told commissioners such projects bring revenue into the area. “They’re vital to getting people down here. Dunedin’s a beautiful town, a beautiful city, and getting people down here to walk around and getting to the Causeway is a great thing to us.”
A second and final reading on the development agreement is scheduled for 6 pm Thursday, Feb. 17, at City Hall.