Spring training in Tampa Bay boosts local economy
LAKELAND, Fla. — Baseball is back in the Tampa Bay area now that a labor agreement has been reached between players and owners.
Charlie’s by Dee family restaurant in Lakeland is a short walk from Tigertown, the Detroit Tigers’ spring training facility.
With the tigers logo to the right of the front door, this is where many baseball fans meet for a bite to eat before a game.
“You’ll have different teams, you’ll have when the Yankees come in the Yankees in their kit, then you’ll have the Detroit Tigers and they’ll be in their kit,” Charlie’s owner Delicia “Dee” Ebare said. Family restaurant by Dee.
Ebare said the restaurant was 35% busier during spring training.
“Very frustrating not knowing what the outcome would be, if we were going to have spring training. Honestly, I didn’t think we were going to have spring training at all,” Ebare said.
While the Major League Baseball lockout has slowed its busiest time of the year, she hopes sales won’t stop for the rest of the season.
“I’m sure we will have some, but not what I think we would have had, the lockdown wouldn’t have happened,” Ebare said.
Spring training has become a key source of revenue in Lakeland, contributing $55 million to the local economy.
“$55 million that goes to hotels, bars, restaurants, car rental companies, things of that nature. It’s detrimental, so we’re glad he’s back,” said Kevin Cook, communications manager for the Town of Lakeland.
The City of Lakeland said 70% of fans are from other states and Canada. Rick Gebhard has been traveling from Michigan to Lakeland for 13 years to watch the ball game.
“As soon as they were available we locked the date and luckily we picked a date when they decided to come and play,” Gebhard said.
From Lakeland to Clearwater, West Central Florida alone is home to eight of the 15 teams that make up the Florida Grapefruit League. According to a Florida Spring Training Economic Impact Study, in 2018 the Grapefruit League generated an economic impact of $687.1 million for the state of Florida.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen. We were a little disappointed to miss spring training,” said Alyssa Ronan, bartender at First Base Bar.
Stadium vendors like First Base Bar are part of the economic engine, creating hundreds of seasonal jobs.
MLB is announcing a $1 million fund to support league workers who have been impacted by canceled spring training games, including concession workers and field staff.
“It’s amazing that they are able to help the people who have helped them so much, because without all these people this wouldn’t happen,” Ronan said.
The Detroit Tigers have 19 games on the schedule. Ten of them will be played at home.