BRADENTON, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the validation of $29 million of bonds that Sarasota and Sarasota County want to sell to renovate the spring training facilities of Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles.
The ruling clears the way for the two deals — planned well over a year ago — to be brought to market in time to take advantage of federally subsidized Build America Bonds and recovery zone economic development bonds before the federal stimulus law authorizing their use expires at the end of the year.
The transactions were brought to a halt last year when the nonprofit groups Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government Inc. and Citizens for Sunshine Inc. filed suits in local circuit court.
The groups alleged that the contract that brought the Orioles to Sarasota from Fort Lauderdale last year with the promise of renovating an existing spring training complex was void because city officials violated the state’s open-meetings law during negotiations leading up to the final approval of the contract.
Circuit Court Judge Robert Bennett ruled in July that there may have been violations of the state law but that they were not “egregious or intentional.” Any violations were cured by subsequent votes of the commissions in public meetings, the judge said.
Bennett also validated the bonds to
be sold by the city and county, but the groups appealed the validation to Florida’s high court.
The court upheld the ruling on Thursday. Justices also said they would not entertain a motion for rehearing, which paves the way for the bonds to be sold without further legal challenges.
“We’re very appreciative of the Supreme Court expediting their decision in order to allow the county to issue bonds before the expiration of the recovery zone economic development bond program and the Build America Bond program,” said attorney Michael Wiener with Holland & Knight, which is bond counsel for Sarasota County.
Wiener said the bonds are expected to be priced before the end of the year.
The actual renovation of an existing stadium and supporting spring training facilities for the Orioles has been under way for several months.
The city plans to sell $8.7 million of RZED bonds, while the county plans to sell $11 million of RZEDs and $9 million of BABs. Other details about the pending sales were not immediately available.