Washington Nationals front-office personnel told Lee County reps the team was interested in moving spring-training operations to City of Palms Park — if the ballpark was upgraded, to the tune of $45 million or more.
With the Nats unwilling to commit to Viera’s Space Coast Stadium and openly seeking a new spring home, a move to Fort Myers to City of Palms Park and a nearby training complex would seem to be a natural. But many of the reasons why the Boston Red Sox moved away from City of Palms Park remain true today, which means upgrades would be needed to lure the Nats. Lee County reps visited Washington this week to gauge the team’s interest a money and were given a list of desired ballpark improvements. These would cost between $45 million and $60 million, and the Nats warned county officials they wouldn’t move without the improvements already in place:
“We’re limited here with what we can afford, ” said [Assistant County Manager of Public Works Doug] Meurer said. “We presented where we’re at, and what revenue is available, and discussed looking at alternative sources of funding.”
The improvements the Nationals want were estimated to be around $45 million to $60 million based on previous discussions. Meurer wouldn’t comment on a dollar amount for the upgrades, but said they’re no different than what any other team wants.
Meurer said they want player development facilities that other teams have, better fitness equipment, better recovery and rehabilitation, more space, an additional practice field downtown and fan enhancements in the stadium. Meurer said he couldn’t get into specifics.
These are the same things the Red Sox identified as being areas of concern before the decision was made to build JetBlue Park. And while the need is the same, Lee County doesn’t have too much cash lying around for spring training: spending $15 million on Hammond Stadium and Lee County Sports Complex upgrades for the Minnesota Twins (the state will pick up the other $15 million of the $30-million or so project) will tap out tourism funds. There’s not a lot left in the well, and the strategy for Lee County was to convince the Nats how better off the team would be in Fort Myers.
In the next few weeks, commissioners will be asked about their stances on the Nats and any potential funding ideas.
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