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Braves Sarasota County Spring Complex Moves Forward

Sarasota County Braves camp

The Atlanta Braves and Sarasota County have the broad outlines of a deal to bring the team’s spring-training complex to North Port, with the plan to be presented to county commissioners today.

The plan for the $75.4-million project calls for a ballpark with 6,500 fixed seats and 1,500 berm seating capacity, six full practice fields, two half fields and a 55,000-square-foot administrative complex with major- and minor-league clubhouses, training spaces, rehab areas and executive offices. It would open in 2019.

Funding for the project would be distributed between Sarasota County ($21.3 million in bonds backed by tourism taxes) the state’s spring-training facilities fund ($13.1 million), the city of North Port ($9 million over 30 years), the local developer ($9 million over 30 years), and the Braves (up to $2.5 million a year, depending on the level of debt service). The Braves will also pay $7.5 million up front to equip the complex, as well as paying for other ballpark features, such as the videoboard and signage, not covered under the deal. In addition, the Braves will fund a new player academy as part of the complex, with facilities that include a dorm accommodating 145 players and staff, a 200-seat auditorium and a 200-capacity dining hall, all designed for year-round training, playing (the GCL Braves will make their way to the new complex) and rehabilitation stints. These sort of player academies are proving to be popular in Major League Baseball; the Pirates have Pirate City and the Twins added an academy when the Lee County Sports Complex was renovated.

The Braves will maintain the complex and have the right to sell naming rights. And although this isn’t stated in the term sheet, we expect the Braves to bring a High-A Florida State League team to the complex. The Braves current own and operate their Triple-A, Double-A, Low-A and Rookie franchises.

Finally, Sarasota County and the Braves will maintain a capital maintenance fund up to $5.6 million.

The new ballpark and training complex are part of a larger development; as we indicated, the developer will be a financial contributor and also retain rights to a next-door mixed-use development that would include housing, retail (including, one would expect, one of those ubiquitous Florida downtowns a la Abacoa) and office space.

The term sheet is the result of years of work from the Braves, who have been training at Disney’s Wide World of Sports since 1998. The team had consulted with several Florida counties and cities before narrowing the field to Sarasota County, Palm Beach County (Lake Worth) and Collier County (Naples). But Collier County and Palm Beach County did not put forward any funding plans, leaving Sarasota County the opening. Despite the Sarasota County location, the new complex will actually be closer to Port Charlotte, where the Rays train, than Sarasota, where the Orioles train.

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