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New Astros/Nats spring complex gets first approval

Washington NationalsA new spring-training complex for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals received initial approval from the West Palm Beach City Commission — a crucial first step toward a potential 2017 opening.

Written off by many for dead, the Astros/Nationals plan calls for a $135-million facility in Palm Beach County, which has already committed $108 million in hotel taxes. Palm Beach County wants to trade two acres of prime downtown land to West Palm Beach for 160 acres of less desirable land. West Palm Beach officials had rejected the trade previously, but yesterday the plan the city commission approved a term sheet for the project that allows for the land swap and other financing details. From the Palm Beach Post:

“This really lays out the playbook for moving forward,’’ said Art Fuccillo, minority partner with the Nationals.

But the teams have little room for error since they won’t break ground until late summer – several months later than their desired goal of March.

“We are on the clock to get this opened in January of ‘17. It’s going to be difficult but we are going to do our best,’’ said Giles Kibbe, general counsel for the Astros.

The term sheet sets out the following:

  • Palm Beach County will finance the project with $135 million in bonds, mostly backed by $108 million from the county’s bed tax. Palm Beach County will also pay $5 million toward planning and preconstruction costs.
  • The state will be asked to pay $2 million a year for 25 years.
  • The lease from the two teams will yield $2.2 million a year for eight years; presumably this number will be adjusted, as the Nats and ‘Stros are signing a 30-year lease.
  • The teams will commit to a 12.2-acre city park as part of the project.

Getting a team back into West Palm Beach has ramifications past the two teams. Right now there are four teams — Washington, the Mets, St. Louis and Miami — training on Florida’s Treasure Coast. If that number dips to three, those teams have out clauses in their spring-complex leases, freeing them to move elsewhere. A new West Palm Beach complex keeps spring training on the Treasure Coast for years to come.

A vote from Palm Beach County is expected today.

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