Braves’ Spring Training complex in West Villages nearing completion, with first game set for March 24

Sarasota County Capital Projects Division director provides update to Sarasota and Charlotte county commissions

A graphic shows the location of the Atlanta Braves’ CoolToday Park in South County. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With slightly more than three weeks to go before the first game at the new facilities, Carolyn Eastwood, director of the Sarasota County Capital Projects Division, told the Sarasota and Charlotte county commissioners on Feb. 28 that workers were “getting very close” to completing the Atlanta Braves Spring Training complex in the West Villages outside North Port.

The groundbreaking ceremony, held on Oct. 16, 2017, she noted, was “basically the kickoff of the construction phase.”

As she provided the board members a tour via slides, Eastwood pointed out that the Braves “have utilized local talent on the project to the greatest extent possible.”

She showed the commissioners a rendering produced by the Fawley Bryant architectural firm in Sarasota — which the Braves provided to county staff — and an aerial photo taken about three weeks earlier, to illustrate how closely the reality matches the design.

Along with Fawley Bryant, she noted, Tandem Construction of Sarasota has been involved with the project.

On March 24, the Braves will play the Tampa Bay Rays at the complex, which has been named the CoolToday Park. Then, in April, Eastwood explained, the Braves officially will relocate their Florida operations to the new facilities.

Work was at approximately the 90% mark, Eastwood said on Feb. 28. “We have lots to do, but a lot’s been done.”

Tickets to that first Spring Training game at CoolToday Park are sold out, according to the Braves’ Spring Training website. “Oh-no! These tickets went fast and we’re unable to find more right now,” the site said when The Sarasota News Leader checked it on March 6.

This is the rendering the Atlanta Braves provided Sarasota County. Image courtesy of the Atlanta Braves via Sarasota County
This is an aerial view of the Spring Training complex as of early February. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The team will play its first full Spring Training season in the park in 2020, Eastwood pointed out to the commissioners.

As of Feb. 28, she continued, the installation of the food service equipment at the stadium and in the clubhouse was near completion. The landscaping is all in place, she added.

Referencing the Fawley Bryant rendering, Eastwood pointed to specific areas of the site as she identified the variety of structures underway. Along with the stadium itself, the complex will encompass a Major League Baseball batting tunnel; a Minor League Baseball batting tunnel and practice fields, which are in the shape of a cloverleaf; grass fields for overflow parking during Spring Training, which have been planned for multiple uses at other times of the year; and a public plaza that could host farmers markets or concerts out of season.

As she showed the board members more slides, Eastwood noted that the Braves’ offices in the clubhouse will be on the third floor, affording personnel “a really great viewpoint.”

A slide shows the exterior of the stadium from the paved parking area (top left); the view toward Home Plate (top right); the concession area (bottom left); and the stadium and the paved parking area (bottom right), as of early February. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A baseball academy also is part of the design, she said, though the Braves are handling that aspect of the complex privately.

The funding and community opportunities

Eastwood noted that the West Villages Improvement District applied for and received a $20-million grant from the state’s Spring Training Retention Fund to help pay for the project. Other funding has been allocated from Sarasota County, the City of North Port, the developer of the West Villages — Mattamy Homes — and the team itself, she said.

The Braves’ online information about Spring Training notes that the team has “spent 72 consecutive years in Florida for Spring Training.” The website references the Braves’ “new state-of-the-art spring training complex in West Villages Florida, a master-planned community in the City of North Port in Sarasota County.”

The estimated project cost — “not including land and infrastructure,” the website says — is $100 million.

These details about the financing of the CoolToday Park are available on the Atlanta Braves’ Spring Training website. Image from the website

The county’s contribution — $21,262,000 — will be paid for out of Tourist Development Tax — “bed tax” — revenue.

The County Commission also committed in September 2017 to paying $5,625,000 over 30 years into a capital expense fund for maintenance at the complex; the Braves will pay the same amount over that term.

The North Port City Commission contributed $4.7 million.

The agreement between the county and the Braves calls for the team to lease the West Villages complex for 30 years, with the option for two renewals of five years each.

The Braves are expected to generate approximately $1.7 billion in economic impact on the county from 2019 to 2048. That information was included in documentation from county staff that was completed in July 2017.

Following Eastwood’s presentation, Ken Doherty, chair of the Charlotte County Commission, said that during his career, before he was elected to the board, he worked on the designs of “probably 14 Major League Baseball training facilities in Florida and Arizona. This looks outstanding for a single-team facility.”

Doherty then asked about the potential uses of the multi-purpose fields when Spring Training is not underway. Sarasota County Commission Chair Charles Hines told him that the opportunity for community events on those fields “was one of the biggest deals with us and the City of North Port,” as contract negotiations were underway with the Braves. “This really isn’t just a Spring Training facility. It is a year-round … facility for our region.”

Charlotte County Commissioner Christopher Constance did ask Eastwood about the road network that will serve the stadium. It appeared to him, he said, that all the roads were two lanes.

West Villages Parkway is four lanes to U.S. 41, Eastwood responded.

“That’s well planned,” Constance told her.

The Florida Department of Transportation and Sarasota County also are working on plans for projects to widen and improve River Road, another route that will serve fans heading to Spring Training games in the future at CoolToday Park.