DETROIT -- The longest-running partnership between a Major League team and a Spring Training home will reach a 100th season. The Tigers and the City of Lakeland, Fla., announced an agreement on Friday that will keep the team in the city through 2036.
The agreement, a 20-year deal that begins after the current one ends in 2016, includes plans for upgrades to Joker Marchant Stadium and the surrounding Tigertown Minor League complex, with $37 million available in funding.
The Tigers just completed their 78th Spring Training in Lakeland, a pairing that began 1934 and has only been interrupted by travel restrictions during World War II. The final year of the new agreement would be the Tigers' 100th Spring Training in Lakeland.
"We are thankful and appreciative of the long-standing relationship with the City of Lakeland, Polk County and the State of Florida, that in terms of years, is second to none in all of Major League Baseball," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a statement.
While the past decade has seen teams come and go from Spring Training facilities, changing cities or even states, the Tigers and Lakeland have become the standard for a successful working relationship. The Tigers' ability to collaborate with the city on modernizing facilities has been a huge reason for it.
Essentially, the Tigers have made Lakeland their second home; it's not only their Spring Training site, but also serves as the center of their Minor League operations and their main rehab facility.
A 2003 makeover turned Joker Marchant Stadium into a state-of-the-art Spring Training park. The new deal brings about the next phase, including planned improvements that have been in the works for the last couple years.
Among the improvements in the current design proposal:
• Separate Major and Minor League clubhouses would be built.
• Seating areas would be upgraded and realigned to provide more shade from the Florida sun.
• A new concourse would run all the way around the ballpark with concessions and vending areas.
• The press box would be expanded to accommodate the recent increase in media coverage.
• A new artificial surface would be installed in the Minor League complex.
According to the proposed schedule, the upgrades would be ready by January 2017. Funding would come from the State of Florida's Spring Training Retention Program ($1 million per year for 20 years), the Polk County Tourist Development Council (up to $14.56 million), the Tigers themselves ($530,000 per year in rent and a management services fee) and the City of Lakeland ($190,000 per year).
"We believe the extensive enhancements to Tigertown will offer the loyal and passionate fans in Lakeland and the legions of Tigers fans that travel to Florida with a one-of-a-kind Spring Training experience," Dombrowski said in the statement. "Lakeland plays a significant role year-round in the Tigers' baseball operations, and the planned renovations will provide the players with a state-of-the-art development and rehabilitation facility, certain to be amongst the best in all of baseball."