Pittsburgh’s North Shore may be home to the Pittsburgh Pirates for 81 games a season, but Bradenton, Florida, is happy to host the team every spring.
There are cities the world over that frequently appear on bucket lists – Paris, Venice, New York, Dubai, Marrakech. Pittsburgh Pirates fans are likely to add one more to their personal lists – Bradenton. This Gulf Coast Florida city of nearly 55,000 is known as the home of Beall’s Department Stores, Tropicana’s juice production facility and, for six weeks out of every year, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
A Storied Past
Bradenton has officially been home to the Pirates since 1969, but its relationship to the team dates back to the early 1900’s when hometown boy Bill McKechnie made his major league debut with the team. McKechnie enjoyed a spotty career with the team as a player, but is better known as the Hall of Fame Manager “who led the Pittsburgh Pirates to a World Series Championship back in 1925,” according to the Pirates website.
Until mid-February 2017, in fact, the Pirates’ Spring Training stadium was named after McKechnie. However, the team announced a 15-year naming rights agreement with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine on February 10, officially changing the name to LECOM Park. To continue honoring McKechnie, the Pirates officially named the newly renovated home clubhouse to the Bill McKechnie Home Clubhouse.
LECOM boasts campuses in Erie and Greensburg, Pa., as well as Bradenton, so the connection makes a lot of sense.
By the Numbers
Mayor Wayne Poston summed up the impact the Pittsburgh Pirates have on the city of Bradenton easily:
“There are a lot more people here when they are in town,” he said.
According to the Bradenton Convention and Visitors Bureau, that’s to the tune of a 37% increase in visitation just from Pittsburgh year over year. That doesn’t account for the baseball fans following other teams to the city or who make a tour of Grapefruit League games an annual rite of spring. The overall impact of the team on the Bradenton economy in 2015 was an estimated $36 million. And that’s not including the revenue brought in by the Pirates’ high Single-A team, the Bradenton Marauders – which the CVB estimated brought in an additional $24 million in 2015.
Pirate City, which is the team’s training and rehab facility, doesn’t just serve the Pirates. It is also available for leasing by businesses and teams when not occupied by the Pirates and their affiliates. In 2014, Pirate City generated $167,551 in sales taxes and an additional $18,453 in resort taxes for Bradenton alone.
The team’s impact isn’t just isolated to the money pumped into the economy, though, said Bob Bartz, President of the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce.
His organization alone has grown with the involvement of the Pittsburgh Pirates to the largest in the Tampa Bay region.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”Bob Bartz, President Manatee County COC” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”The Pirates have been partners with us since the beginning helping to make this area a great place to live work and play.”[/perfectpullquote]
The team locating their Spring Training in the city, as well as year-round training and rehab operations, provides a base for many other businesses in the community to thrive. That doesn’t take into account the charitable contributions made by the team and its ancillary services. Additionally, there’s the residual income brought in by Pirates players and alums who decided to make Bradenton their home – or temporary home at least.
“There are so many ways they help us improve the quality of life for Manatee County companies and its residents,” he said. “I just can’t even begin to say enough good things about the team and its people.”
The Pirates Fare Well, Too
The benefits of locating in Bradenton are not one-sided. In 2008, the team signed a 30-year lease with the City of Bradenton. That agreement allows the city and team to make long-term plans that other teams singing 10 year agreements with their Spring Training hosts just can’t do, Poston explained.
It paved the way for massive renovations at LECOM Park, including a new clubhouse, lights (which enables the park to be used for night games and helped usher in the formation of the Bradenton Marauders), new seating for fans, the popular boardwalk and tiki bar and this year, a new high-tech scoreboard. Nearly all of the upgrades the team has made to LECOM and Pirate City have been backed in-part by incentive packages offered through development organizations.
All of these improvements make LECOM a destination spot for tourists interested in taking in a Spring Training game and teams looking for fields to lease for tournaments/regular games. Additionally, locating the Marauders in the same area as the training/rehab facility makes good sense both logistically and financially.
Coming in 2018
Perhaps the best example of the symbiotic relationship between the city of Bradenton and the Pittsburgh Pirates lies in an eight-story, 131 room Springhill Suites by Marriott slated for construction this year. Located in a spot by the marina downtown, the proposed hotel is backed by multiple partners, including: Bradenton construction company owner Ron Allen (more on this Pittsburgh transplant to Bradenton later this month), Nick and Jim Primanti (who recently divested interest in their namesake sandwich restaurant chain), investors connected to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and David Cocco, President of Northstar Lodging and Development (who is responsible for the construction of the Springhill Suites and Residence Inn on Pittsburgh’s North Shore). It brings additional lodging options to the city, which are much-needed given that downtown Bradenton lacks hotels, and the rates at what hotels there are surge during Spring Training. That of course, also brings in revenue to its owners.
The hotel is projected to open before Spring Training 2018, Poston said.
This cooperative project, which extends beyond the actual team and city, may be one of the first for the area, but with a relationship set in stone through 2037, is not likely the last. And that’s a win for the Pirates, their fans, Bradenton and its visitors.