Although Palm Beach County commissioners voted to move ahead with planning on a spring-training complex for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, several funding pieces need to fall into place before the first shovel of dirt is turned.
The commissioners voted to move forward with a deal with the two teams for a complex that would cost between $100 million and $140 million in Lake Worth, south of Palm Beach in the middle of the county. Right now the county is looking at raising $100 million from two sources and asking the teams for money as well. Now, under the best of circumstances, raising $100 million is a challenge for any municipality these days.
The two sources envisioned by county officials: a $50 million grant from the state and a local sales tax. The $50 million from the state has been touted by the Astros and local officials after it was approved by the state legislature, but it’s not exactly set in stone. First, the terms are a little wonky: it begins in three years after construction begins on a two-team facility and runs for 37 years. That’s a long time — much longer than the Nats and Astros are expected to commit to a lease. County officials know this and expect to ask the legislature to distribute the money in a more timely fashion. And, some within the sports-business community expect the entire spending package to be scrapped by Gov. Rick Scott, who is facing reelection challenges this fall and may want to prove his conservative fiscal mettle. (His potential opponent: former Republican governor and MiLB counsel Charlie Crist, who is now a Democrat.) The state would also need to approve any changes to local property taxes to allow for dedicated ballpark-bond revenue streams, something that would augment local hotel taxes as a revenue source. Again, not impossible to achieve, but there’s always the symbolism of the state allowing new and additional taxes to pay for baseball — and with elections in the fall, this is always a wild card.
The Astros currently train in Kissimmee; the Nationals currently train in Viera. Both have made it clear to local units of government that they will be ending their leases once a new home is completed. Right now 2017 is envisioned as an opening date.
This demonstrates how difficult it will be to get a new spring-training complex built in the next five years. Surprisingly, there are rumblings from multiple teams about wanting new or renovated complexes. We just spent two weeks touring ballparks with all sorts of politicos and insiders, and we could see a lot of action at complexes in the next few years — but don’t expect many plans for completely new facilities.
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