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Florida Ballpark Could Serve as Designated Emergency Shelter

25 Aug, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

A loophole in Florida law means a new MLB spring training complex could be used to house the homeless in the event of an emergency.

We know: say what? But it’s true. When the state of Florida kicked in $50 million to help build the Ballpark of Palm Beaches, it triggered a state law allowing Palm Beach County to use the stadium as an emergency homeless shelter over the next 30 years.

According to an article in the Palm Beach Post also picked up by Athletic Business, the county will own the $135 million stadium, which is set to open in January 2017, so theoretically, the county will be able to use all or part of it as an emergency shelter.

The scenario is less than probable, however, since it is more likely that the area would be pressed into service as an emergency shelter only as a last resort, after any other county buildings had been filled. And that would only happen in the event of a natural disaster, such as a Category 5 hurricane that would wipe out housing, leaving a huge population without shelter.

In other words, this would be a sports facility being repurposed as a shelter the same way the Louisiana Superdome was used following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It is not a sports facility being used to give street people a place to sleep at night.

The Post article noted that a structure such as a ballpark would make an ideal emergency shelter because it would have public bathrooms. The Ballpark of Palm Beaches will have restrooms along the main concourse, which will wrap around the entire stadium. In addition, notes the article, tents could be erected both on the concourse and baseball field. The clubhouses, when completed, will have bathrooms and showers.

Hurricane season in Florida began on June 1 and continues through the end of November.

Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, has no provision allowing the county to use it as an emergency shelter because no state money was used for its construction in 1998. Also, the state law affecting the new West Palm Beach complex didn't exist in 1998. However, the grounds around Roger Dean Stadium have been identified by the county for use in post-disaster recovery efforts.

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