Despite a deeply contentious end of session, the Florida Legislature approved changes in zoning to allow construction of a new Washington Nationals/Houston Astros spring training complex in West Palm Beach.
Yesterday the Senate approved HB 1213, which changes the boundaries of the water cachement area in West Palm Beach, allowing 27 acres of land to be incorporated into the Nats/Astros spring-training site. The total area of the $135-million project: 160 acres. You can see an early site plan above; the design work is from HKS. From the Palm Beach Post:
The bill was necessary, because no actual construction could start without tweaking the law that created the catchment area, home of West Palm Beach’s water supply. The bill sent to Scott reduces the protective zone separating the south end of the property from the canal.
Giles Kibbe, general counsel for the Houston Astros, speaking on behalf of both teams, said the teams had been concerned this week with all the drama between the chambers. “A little bit of a curveball,” he said.”But I’m glad to see it was all resolved.”
If the water bill had languished, Kibbee said he didn’t think the project could have gone forward for another year.
While this bill in and of itself wasn’t necessarily controversial, there was always the danger it would be lost in the chaos always accompanying the end of a Florida legislative session. This year’s session was especially chaotic: the state House adjourned three days early, earning the wrath of senators who say it was an unconstitutional move. And there are far larger issues at play with this spat: the two bodies are feuding over the future of Medicare in the state, a place where ideology clashes with real-world concerns.
With the passage of this bill and the expected signing by Gov. Rick Scott, work can proceed on the project. Some site prep work has begun, and look for a big groundbreaking this fall in anticipation of a 2017 opening.
The Nationals currently train at Viera’s Space Coast Stadium and Carl Barger Complex, while the Astros train at Osceola County Stadium. 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 remaining 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 decades to come.
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