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Dunedin mayor visited Toronto to discuss Blue Jays spring training site

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Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski of Dunedin, Florida flew to Toronto at the end of June to meet with Mayor John Tory of Toronto to discuss establishing sister city ties in the future and to meet with the Blue Jays front office to see if she can persuade the ballclub to remain in the only spring training home they've ever known.

The situation in Dunedin is not ideal for the Blue Jays, as their spring training complex is four miles away from the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium (FAES), where major league spring training games are held, whereas most other clubs have the two entities co-located. The FAES is also in need of an upgrade as it lacks the facilities and amenities that more modern spring training stadiums can offer to fans. Especially in the past few years, the Blue Jays have flirted with other facilities where they can hold their month-long pre-season camp. One option that they explored extensively was to move to Palm Beach Gardens along with the Houston Astros, but those plans were shelved after NIMBYism prevailed.

Canadian visitors during spring training in February and March are very important for the economy of the small City of Dunedin, whose entire population would not even fill out the Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays' lease with the city runs through 2017, but according to the Toronto Star's Richard Griffin, the club can elect to pick up a five-year option (and another five-year option after that). The Jays are using that option as leverage to get Dunedin to make the necessary upgrades and renovations to get both the training and complex up to par.

Mayor Bujalski, who was first elected to office in November 2014, is a new voice in the ongoing talks. Her predecessor complained in 2013 that the Blue Jays had stopped returning his emails and phone calls.

The Tampa Bay Times' Michael Majchrowicz reported that Mayor Bujalski returned from her trip to Toronto believing that an agreement to keep the Blue Jays in Dunedin can be hashed out before Blue Jays president Paul Beeston's anticipated retirement at the end of this season. She was quoted as being "extremely confident" that the city and the baseball club can sign a long-term contract. That appears to be an upgrade from this spring, when the Globe and Mail's Robert Macleod quoted her as being just "really confident."

Mayor Bujalski was publicly supportive of the building of a brand new Blue Jays training facility in her city, but no details of the negotiations have been revealed, with the mayor citing a confidentiality agreement with the Blue Jays.

Dunedin, while small in population, does not have empty land where a stadium-training complex can be built. The FAES shares an urban block with the public library, an elementary school, and private houses so there is no room to expand unless those are moved, which would be costly and highly disruptive. The Bobby Mattick Training Complex four miles north is also surrounded by a school and houses.