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Braves absent in St. Pete spring-training talks

St. Pete development proposal

While Pinellas County officials and reps from SportsPark Partners LLC have been meeting about a potential amateur sports and spring-training complex in St. Petersburg, there’s been a notable absence in the proceedings: the Atlanta Braves.

As you’ll recall, the Braves were part of a group proposing a 240-acre, $622-million sports complex in St. Pete’s Toytown area, on the site of a former landfill. The St. Petersburg sports complex would include a 11,000-capacity ballpark (10,000 seats, 1,000 on the berm), a 15,000-seat fieldhouse for indoor events, a 20,000-seat track and field stadium, an aquatic center, a hockey rink and a 200,000-square foot dormitory housing 800. That proposal met with instant criticism from Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays, who asserted the local priority should be a new Rays ballpark.

Since then, reps for former MLB player Gary Sheffield and local developer Darryl LeClair have been meeting with Pinellas County reps on the scope of the project and potential public financing in the form of $10.5 million in bed taxes, but absent from those meetings have been reps from the Atlanta Braves, per the Tampa Bay Times:

Are the Braves still part of the ambitious project to build a spring training facility and amateur sports complex on the 240-acre former Pinellas County landfill?

“I honestly don’t know,” said Joe Lauro, the county’s director of purchasing.

If the Braves have pulled out, it would be a quiet backing-away from the club’s announcement in September that it was a partner in LeClair’s project, which sent a tremor through Major League Baseball and local politics.

No one is talking — everyone involved declined to comment. But a lot has changed since the original proposal and MLB’s reaction: the St. Petersburg City Council voted to allow the Rays front office to look for new ballpark sites in the region, and Pinellas County say it would be possible to put public bed taxes into both the spring proposal and a new Rays ballpark. It’s no secret the Braves want out of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports and Champion Stadium — and the feeling appears to be mutual, as Disney World recently announced an amateur-sports expansion that didn’t involve baseball. Where the Braves end up, however, remains to be seen.

RELATED STORIES: MLB, Rays push back on Braves spring camp proposal; St. Pete next stop for Atlanta Braves spring training?; Could Palm Beach land new Braves spring training facility? Probably not; Braves launch search for new spring site

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