July 18, 2014 at 11:51 am

Tigers, City of Lakeland announce $37M spring-training expansion, 20-year extension

Seating capacity at Joker Marchant Stadium, the Tigers' spring-training home, will not greatly expand beyond the current 8,000-plus under a $37 million expansion plan. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

An ambitious, $37 million expansion of the Tigersí training complex in Lakeland, Fla., has been formalized.

The project will expand roofed seating along each of Joker Marchant Stadiumís baselines, create a 360-degree wraparound walkway and include construction of new clubhouses, training facilities, and add an artificial-turf practice field, all to be completed by 2017.

The plan, and its financing, has been in place for several years but was announced Friday after the City of Lakeland, in concert with Polk County and the state of Florida, joined with the Tigers in unveiling a package that has also led to a 20-year extension of the Tigers and Lakeland as spring training partners. It is the longest-running partnership in the big leagues between a team and a town.

Perhaps the most visible part of the plan includes demolishing existing third-base bleachers and replacing them with an extension of the roofed seats that now are confined to Marchant Stadiumís more interior sections, which are marked by shaded chairs with seat-backs.

The 360-degree walkway, which will mirror Comerica Parkís walk-around concourse, will allow a circular tour of the ballpark without marring the vision of fans who typically gather on a grass berm beyond the left-field fence. Seating capacity will not greatly expand beyond the current 8,000-plus. New and expanded press-box booths are also part of the plan.

Because of the construction, the Tigersí Single-A franchise at Lakeland, the Flying Tigers, will play its 2016 games at Henley Field in downtown Lakeland, where the Tigers trained before moving to Joker Marchant Stadium in 1966. Clubhouse construction for minor-league and big-league teams will be completed ahead of the Tigersí arrival for spring training in 2016.

The Tigers and their Lakeland-based delegation, headed by Ron Myers and Bill Tinsley, have been involved for several years in detailing the reconstruction, which was contingent on support from the governing bodies, as well as the Tigers.

Extensive study of complexes in Florida and Arizona led to a final presentation that the City of Lakeland and its government allies, in conjunction with financing from the Tigers, finally completed this week.

The Tigers have been training at Lakeland since 1934. The city estimates more than $60 million is delivered to Lakelandís economy each year by way of the Tigers and their minor-league affiliate and Tigertown training complex.