The final hurdle to a new West Palm Beach spring-training complex for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals has been addressed, with all sides now working toward a 2017 opening of Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
We have all the details on our Spring Training Online site. Basically, the last hurdle was related to land-use issues requiring legislative changes. Once that happened, the project could move forward, punctuated yesterday with a West Palm Beach signing ceremony.
There are some bigger issues at play here. 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, with Roger Dean Stadium (spring home of the Cardinals and Marlins) just a short drive away from the new ‘Stros/Nats complex. If that number were to dip 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.
And it probably means the departure of the Atlanta Braves from the greater Orlando area. The Braves have already launched a search for a new spring facility to replace Champion Stadium, but staying in central Florida doesn’t appear to be an option. As we noted on March 30, Atlanta Braves branding at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports and Champion Stadium is nonexistent, and the Braves are clearly now a secondary tenant to bigger events. Orlando has developed into such a tourism powerhouse that the presence of the Braves really doesn’t make a difference, and the success of Disney in establishing Wide World of Sports as a sports-tourism powerhouse makes the Braves almost superfluous. By 2018 we could see a Grapefruit League in basically two parts: five teams on the Treasure Coast and 10 teams on or near the Gulf Coast.
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