Efforts to bring the Washington Nationals to Fort Myers will likely end in failure, says a Lee County commissioner, because the county has no money to fix up City of Palms Park.
County officials have been wooing the Nationals for several months, a time that includes an exclusive negotiating period for the two sides. The county is eager to see a tenant for City of Palms Park, vacated when the Boston Red Sox moved to JetBlue Park for spring training. The Nats did express interest and submitted a wish list for ballpark improvement that included the addition of a practice field at the facility and more. These improvements aren't new -- the Red Sox had expressed interest in similar changes before settling on a new facility on the outskirts of town -- but with the county tapped out, an effort to charge the Nats for ballpark improvements will likely end up in failure.
“When the Washington National’s proposal came in, the dollar amount was way up here and we didn’t have the capacity in (tourist taxes) at that time to really consider moving forward, unless there was some significant negotiations and changes in those numbers,” [county commissioner John] Manning said at the Nov. 16 meeting.
When Manning met with the Nationals, he suggested the team, city and county “all put skin in the game together,” he told the TDC.
“Well, that didn’t happen,” he said.
Traditionally, teams don't contribute money toward a spring-training facility, though teams will pay for specific features outside the scope of a traditional training camp (the Minnesota Twins, for instance, are paying for player dorms at the Lee County Sports Complex under the terms of a new lease). The county has pretty much devoted every available penny to spring training facilities for the Twins and Red Sox (some $436 million over the next 32 years), and there's literally nothing left on a third team in the city. (In fact, the city still has $15.1 million of debt to pay on City of Palms Park). Showing the Nats a lot of love in an effort to procure a team investment in City of Palms Park was unlikely to succeed, but worth a shot anyway.
The Nats are on the hunt for a new spring-training facility; recently an effort to build a new two-team complex in Kissimmee became public.
The Nats have a contract to train at Space Coast Stadium through 2017, but that lease can be broken once ballpark debt is paid off -- which is scheduled to happen in 2013. In addition, the other main tenant at Space Coast Stadium -- the Brevard County Manatees (High Class A; Florida State League) -- is negotiating a move to Winter Park.
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