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Osceola County delays vote on new Nats spring facility

Washington NationalsA final decision on a new Washington Nationals spring-training facility in Kissimmee has been delayed a month by Osceola County commissioners, as local business groups ask for time to review the agreement.

The new facility would cost $98 million ($88 million from tourism taxes, $10 million from the state) and be located south of the current Houston Astros spring facility. It’s currently pitched as a two-team facility, but it’s not entirely certain there’s a second team committed to the project (all accounts have the Toronto Blue Jays joining the Astros in the Palm Beach Gardens). In any case, the commissioners will take up the proposal — already approved by the Osceola County Tourism Board — on Aug. 19 after it’s been vetted by opponents and the Chamber of Commerce of Kissimmee/Osceola County.

In the grand scheme of things, a month delay to placate an important constituency isn’t a big deal. The Nationals currently train in Viera’s Space Coast Stadium and have openly been seeking a new home for months: Viera is perhaps the most isolated outpost in the Grapefruit League, and a move to the greater Orlando area would allow for more convenient travel and a much easier travel situation for Nats fans. But spring training in Orlando is perhaps a tougher sell than many anticipated: March in Orlando already means crowds, lines and crammed hotels, and there are some foes who say $88 million in spring-training spending is unneeded. In any case, the Nats ownership had a pretty laid-back response to the delay, per the Orlando Sentinel:

Representatives from the Nationals, including principal owner Mark Lerner, hustled out of the five-hour commission meeting when the board voted 3-2 against approving an agreement that had been in the works for more than a year. Because of a confidentiality agreement, the pact’s details had been disclosed to the public only recently.

Lerner put a positive spin on the delay.

“The Washington Nationals are optimistic that we are a step closer to bringing Osceola County a one-of-a-kind, family-friendly spring-training and fan-experience facility,” he said. “We will continue to work together with Osceola County toward the common goal of making this the best spring-training facility in Major League Baseball.”

At one point there were hopes a new facility could open in 2015; the Nats are committed to Viera in 2014 and could opt out of their Space Coast Stadium lease before it ends in 2017, as bonds for that facility are almost paid off.

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