FT. MYERS, Fla. -- Undeterred by a mid-afternoon rainstorm, the Twins and Lee County broke ground Thursday on a $48.5 million renovation that will transform the Lee County Sports Complex and Hammond Stadium -- the Spring Training home of the Twins since 1991 -- into state-of-the-art facilities designed to enhance the fan experience and strengthen the team's player development program.
"Today is a big day for our organization on the field in terms of our efforts to get better, a big day for our fans who come to Spring Training to enjoy baseball and a big day for Lee County," said Twins president Dave St. Peter. "We think it's huge."
The bulk of project will be paid for by a county bonding issue, with substantial contributions from the state of Florida and the Twins. The Twins have signed a 30-year lease to remain at the Lee County Sports Complex, the site of the team's year-round player development operations, including the Twins' Florida State League affiliate, the Fort Myers Miracle.
The agreement demonstrates Lee County's commitment to keep the Twins, as well as the Twins' commitment to remain an integral part of the community.
"We didn't have much interest in moving anywhere else," St. Peter said. "Our partnership with Lee County will go beyond the next 30 years. These renovations will continue to make this a crown jewel for Lee County."
"We spend a lot of time here and it's great to have a facility that you can be proud of and brag about," said Twins general manager Terry Ryan. "We have had a lot of accolades about this place. Now it's going to be even better. There are a lot of things going on here that are positive."
"Since 1991, the Twins and Lee County have enjoyed the model public-private partnership," St. Peter said. "Today's groundbreaking signifies the evolution of the partnership as well as this facility.
"Certainly, for us, this demonstrates our long-term commitment to Lee County. We consider this 'Twins Country.'
"The Twins are honored to call southwest Florida home and are committed to continued year-round engagement across the community. Moreover, we believe the LCSC renovation project will only further solidify Lee County's reputation as a Grapefruit League hotbed."
Lee County is also the site of JetBlue Park, the Spring Training home of the Boston Red Sox, which is located a few miles from Hammond Stadium.
"It's important to note that all Lee County funding for the project comes from bed taxes, not from Lee County residents," said Lee County Commission Chairman Cecil Pendergrass.
Designed by Populous, a global sport and convention center architecture firm, the renovations will be completed in two phases.
Phase 1, which is expected to be completed by February 2014, will include:
• A new residential player development academy
• Renovations to the Minor League clubhouse and administrative areas
• A new Gulf Coast League playing field
• A new agility field
• Completion of a 360-degree boardwalk and concourse at Hammond Stadium, including new berm seating in left field
• Expansion of Hammond Stadium's seating capacity from 8,000 to 9,300
• A new parking lot.
The player development academy will elevate the facility beyond a traditional Spring Training facility with the goal of creating a year-round, multi-discipline, residential training center for players and staff. The residential component of the academy will be paid for by the Twins' organization, which is contributing $6 million to cover that component and concessions equipment.
"The vision for our academy is providing a facility for our players, particularly our young players, to call home when they are in Ft. Myers," St. Peter said. "That will be a huge advantage to the Twins."
The facilities will be used for Spring Training, the Instructional League, organizational meetings and injured players who are rehabbing, in addition to the FSL Miracle and the Twins' entry in the Gulf Coast League, according to St. Peter.
Phase 2 renovations at Hammond Stadium, which are expected to be completed by February 2015, will include:
• Upgraded concourses
• Improved concession services
• Restroom renovations
• Premium seating improvements
• A new retail store
• New areas for group seating
• Press box renovations
All construction, which is being managed by Manhattan Twins Joint Venture, a partnership between Manhattan Construction Company, Chris-Tel Construction, and Casey Construction, will be completed in time for Spring Training 2015.
Studies have shown the Twins' Spring Training games annually generate more than $47 million for the Lee County economy, driving visitors to local attractions, restaurants, hotels, and shopping.
"Hammond Stadium and the Lee County Sports Complex is an important part of the culture of this community and the renovations will ensure that it will continue to be for decades to come," said Bruce Miller, Populous Principal.
"This is an exciting moment for the Twins and for Lee County, and an important step towards creating an experience -- for both fans and players -- that is memorable. The renovations will create more space for the team to grow and develop talent with the addition of the Twins Academy, and will provide much improved amenities for fans."
Jim Hawkins is a contributor to MLB.com.