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Braves Continue Spring Training Ballpark Pursuit

Sarasota County Braves camp

With both Palm Beach and Sarasota counties in the mix, the Atlanta Braves are continuing to pursue a new spring training facility in Florida.

It stands reason that the Braves will amp up their pursuit for a new facility this year. Timing factors into this, as their agreement at Champion Stadium and ESPN’s Wide World of Sports is slated to expire after 2018. Furthermore, the number of candidates for host sites has been narrowed in recent weeks, with officials in Collier County opting in December to drop their negotiations with the team.

For right now, the focus seems to be on Palm Beach County and Sarasota County. In Palm Beach, the Braves continue to engage with local officials on a proposal that calls for a ballpark and adjacent complex that encompasses 70 acres in the southwest corner of John Prince Park.

It has been known that the Braves have their eyes on this site, as the team has previously pitched it as its preferred location. While that proposal remains on the table, Palm Beach County officials are concerned about funding. The allocation of tourism-tax dollars for the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches–which is scheduled to open next month–makes it unlikely that the same funding source can be tapped for the Braves. That leaves Palm Beach County officials, including administrator Verdenia Baker, wondering how it can finance the proposal. More from The Palm Beach Post:

Baker also ruled out the use of money from the 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in November. Any county contribution, she said, would be limited to property tax revenue. Cities around the site also could be asked to contribute.

As of Friday, the Braves plan was not the agenda for the commission’s next regular meeting Feb.7.

The Braves “have been doing their own thing and their own planning,” Baker said. “They did ask for staff’s input on ‘What if we did this? Would that work’ etc. Our park staff has been giving them input so whatever plans they come up with they’re going to have minimal to no impact if the board decides (to proceed). We gave them input so they would know what we are going to vehemently object to if this thing moves forward.’’

Meanwhile, Sarasota County is still discussing its options when it comes to the pursuit of the Braves. Under the concept that the county and the team have discussed, a ballpark and adjacent complex would be constructed in North Port (shown above). County will continue to consider the proposal in further detail, and some funding options on the table. More from the Herald-Tribune:

It comes as local officials prepare to brief the Sarasota County Commission this spring on the still-developing plans for a $100 million North Port complex pitched as the heart of the planned West Villages “town center” development on 100 to 150 acres near U.S. 41 and River Road.

Unlike Palm Beach, though, West Villages and county leaders have said they plan to propose roughly $22 million in county tourism development tax dollars and another potential $20 million in state grants.

Sarasota County remains the only local government to formally approve negotiations with the team after Collier County commissioners voted against negotiations for a second time last month.

If the Braves wind up in one of these two counties, they will be close to numerous other complexes. Palm Beach County also includes the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, which will be home to the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, and Roger Dean Stadium, which is shared by the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins. In Sarasota County, the Braves would be between north of the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte and south of the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota.

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