A Lee County commissioner pegged the odds at “50-50” about the chances of the Washington Nationals moving spring-training operations to Fort Myers after the two sides met today.
Lee County (Fl.) Commissioner Frank Mann, who did not attend a meeting between Lee County officials and two Nats reps but did discuss it with them afterwards, offered the odds to the Naples Daily News. Others within the meeting were more optimistic, like Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson: “I think there’s an opportunity do business here. I think it’s exciting. Some things we can talk about.”
Of course Henderson’s not on the hook for any ballpark improvements foreseen by the Nationals, and as the two sides didn’t actually discuss how to fund any improvements to City of Palms Park, the meeting was more like one of those planning sessions where you outline the dream addition to the house before actually seeing how much it will cost for those fancy fixtures. This is the optimistic stage. Since financing were not on the table, the meeting was certainly of limited utility. When you consider funding issues were not discussed — and anything related to this topic will hinge on funding — 50-50 odds aren’t very good.
Indeed, the issue is whether there’s enough money in Lee County coffers to pay for the improvements the Nats want to see at City of Palms Park, which includes new practice fields adjacent to the ballpark. County officials are still committed to improvements to the Minnesota Twins training complex, which includes Hammond Stadium and other workout facilities (many of which haven’t been upgraded since the Twins moved spring operations from Orlando) and could cost as much as $60 million, After spending $76 million on a new spring-training complex for the Boston Red Sox, it’s not clear how much more the tourism-tax well can be tapped once Hammond Stadium improvements are bonded.
The Washington Nationals currently train at Brevard County’s Space Coast Stadium in Viera. The quality of the ballpark and the adjoining Carl Barger Complex are not in question; the issue is the location, with the closest opponent some 54 miles away in the form of the Houston Astros training at Osceola County Stadium. The team’s lease runs through 2017 but there’s an escape clause where the team could move when ballpark bonds are paid off, something that’s expected to happen next year. Moving to Fort Myers would put the Nats in close proximity to three other teams (Twins, Red Sox, Rays) and relatively close to the Baltimore Orioles’ complex in Sarasota.
RELATED STORIES: Lee County, Nats to meet about spring training; Lee County applying for state ballpark-improvement grant; Lerner: Fort Myers is tops on our spring-training wish list; Gammons: Nats present spring-training wish list to Lee County; Is Nats, Brevard County marriage over?; Nats go public with desire for new spring-training facility; Nats, Astros eying new Osceola County spring-training complex; Could Cards, Marlins leave Treasure Coast?; Kasten: Nats definitely looking for new spring home
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