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Manatees could be forced from Space Coast Stadium

Brevard County ManateesWith Brevard County approving a 20-year lease with the U.S. Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) for the use of Space Coast Stadium, the future of the Brevard County Manatees (High A; Florida State League) there is in serious doubt.

The USSSA currently operates out of Osceola County Stadium, but pitched Brevard County on a Space Coast Stadium/Barger Complex lease that called for 175 days of events at the ballpark and playing fields, along with 75,000 room nights of hotel rentals. The start date of the lease still needs to be determined: it’s not clear when the Washington Nationals will be moving spring-training operations to a new West Palm Beach ballpark tentatively scheduled to open in 2017. From Florida Today:

The county would reimburse the USSSA up to $10 million for improvements the sports organization plans to make to the stadium complex. Those improvements would include constructing 10 new artificial-turf fields, converting natural-turf fields to artificial turf, and adding lighting, so the complex can accommodate large youth sports tournaments.

That money will come from revenue generated by the county’s 5 percent Tourist Development Tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals.

Don DeDonatis, chairman and chief executive officer of the USSSA, said his organization also will contribute extensively to the project to “do the stadium right” and build the new fields.

The Manatees also pitched a five-year lease for Space Coast Stadium, but it didn’t include any hotel rentals and was rejected by the county board.

And while USSSA officials say they’re willing to talk about a Manatees lease once they take over Space Coast Stadium, there’s no guarantee an agreement will be reached: weekends are prime times for tournaments as well as Class A ballgames. Finding a new home won’t be simple: the team has pitched new ballpark plans to Winter Park to no avail, while there’s been no word on the status of a proposed Palm Bay ballpark. (Indeed, we’re guessing the Manatees would be proposing a Space Coast Stadium lease if a Palm Bay ballpark was in the works.) Manatees ownership has stated the desire to keep the team in the Orlando area; perhaps Osceola County Stadium would work if the count wants to stay in the ballpark game.

RELATED STORIES: Manatees, Palm Bay chat new ballpark; Palm Bay mayor: Let’s look at privately financed ballpark; Palm Bay explores new ballpark

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