We have a bidding war for a Atlanta Braves spring training camp, as Palm Beach County officials have responded to a Sarasota County pitch with one of their own — and a possible county commitment to advanced negotiations as soon as early April.
Ballpark Digest newsletter subscribers know that Sarasota County pitched the Braves on a North Port spring-training site located in the southern part of the county earlier this month. (We do offer exclusive content to newsletter subscribers. Subscribe now — it’s free!) Now, North Port isn’t exactly a large city — it has just 57,357 residents — but the area is growing rapidly, and larger population bases aren’t too far away. And there’s a baseball guy in the negotiations. Some readers may remember Jeff Maultsby from his time working on spring training for the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds, and today he’s business and economic development director for Sarasota County.
The proposal calls for a full $100-million single-team training facility on 100-125 acres, complete with a 7,500-seat ballpark on the south side of U.S. 41 and west of River Road. That would put the Braves squarely between the Orioles and the Rays along the Gulf Coast, making for a nice stretch of spring training action between Fort Myers and Tampa.
And there’s a preliminary funding mechanism already in place. The West Villages Improvement District is already set up as a bonding mechanism, and a developer (who drew up the rendering at the top of this mail) will donate the land. The bonds would be paid back via county tourism development tax revenue and rent, and the county would pursue state money as well. Talks with the Braves were slated to continue.
Not so fast, say Palm Beach County officials, who last month said they were coming for the Braves, a stance reaffirmed this week. The Braves trained in West Palm Beach for 35 years — beginning during the Milwaukee Braves era — before shifting spring operations to Disney’s Champion Stadium in 1998. The Braves had hired some heavyweight lobbyists in February, and team president John Schuerholz spoke fondly of a return to Palm Beach County. A site has been identified: John Prince Park, west of Lake Worth in the middle of the county. And apparently the Palm Beach County discussions are ongoing, per the Sun-Sentinel:
Vice Mayor Hal Valeche said he met with Braves officials earlier this week, and he’d like the County Commission to vote April 5 to begin efforts to entice the team in time for the 2018 season.
“They expressed a very strong interest in being here,” he said. “For us to be competitive, we can’t delay very much. We need to get this done.”….
One key question will be how to pay for a new stadium, which could cost more than $100 million, Valeche said.
“It’s difficult,” Valeche said. “Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at every avenue. We could really become a serious hub for spring training.”
Indeed. The addition of the Braves would put five teams training in Palm Beach County: the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches beginning in 2017, and the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins at Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium. Add in the New York Mets training at nearby Port St. Lucie, and you have a nice six-team training cluster.
RELATED STORIES: Palm Beach County back in play for Braves spring home; Braves absent in St. Pete spring-training talks; 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