As recently as Labor Day, the chair of the West Villages Improvement District had a phone conversation with team officials
As recently as Labor Day, the chair of the West Villages Improvement District in South Sarasota County talked with representatives of the Atlanta Braves about the potential for the Major League Baseball team to relocate Spring Training games to Sarasota County.
That was the news Martin Black of the West Villages conveyed to the Sarasota County Commission and the North Port City Commission during the boards’ joint meeting on Sept. 12 in Venice.
“We are still in active discussions and coordination with the city and the county with the Atlanta Braves and other teams,” Black responded to a question from North Port Commissioner Linda Yates. “I’m not going to promise,” he added of the Braves, “but we’re going to try to get ’em.”
On March 8, the County Commission voted unanimously to authorize County Administrator Tom Harmer to continue negotiations with the team and the West Villages for construction of a state-of-the-art facility in the new master-planned community near North Port, Englewood and Venice.
A county news release noted the “proposed campus is envisioned to have training facilities, practice fields and a 7,500-seat stadium” on a site encompassing 100 to 150 acres with direct access to U.S. 41 and West Villages Parkway.”
Black explained on Sept. 6 that 150 acres would be necessary if the Braves and another Major League Baseball team both were interested in the South County location. A second team would necessitate an extra 50 acres for practice fields, he pointed out.
With the Braves having an open date on Sept. 5, he told the two commissions, he spent “an hour on the phone with “Braves’ leadership.” The team is still working with local design and contracting firms, Black added, “to try to move their end of pricing down” for Spring Training facilities.
“It really is a matter of can we provide a lease to them that’s acceptable from a business perspective,” Black said.
Jeff Maultsby, director of business and economic development for the county, told The Sarasota News Leader the complex probably would cost about $100 million, given the expense of similar new training facilities.
And while he had mentioned the potential for a second team, Black pointed out this week, he could not say anything further about negotiations with anyone other than the Braves, because only the Braves’ management has allowed their discussions to be discussed publicly.
Black also noted that the Braves are continuing talks with two other counties. News media accounts earlier this year indicated both Collier County and Palm Beach County have been involved in such discussions.
Still, Black said of the Braves, “They continue to be highly motivated and supportive of trying to come to Sarasota County.”
In late June, the Fort Myers News-Press reported that the Collier County Commission had voted unanimously to give its staff the go-ahead “to evaluate the opportunity to bring the [Braves] here for spring training and to report the results back to the board for action.” The outcome of that effort is expected to be the focus of discussion this fall, the paper noted, probably after three new commissioners have been elected.
On June 14, Ballpark Digest reported that “a new spring-training facility for the Atlanta Braves won’t be ready until 2019 at the earliest, as the team negotiates with Disney to keep spring operations at Champion Stadium and ESPN’s Wide World of Sports through 2018 after efforts to land a new facility [have proven to] take longer than anticipated.”
Ballpark Digest mentioned only that the Braves have been negotiating for a new facility in Palm Beach County or Sarasota County. It added, “[W]ith the clock winding down on the time needed to arrange financing for and the design of a new spring-training complex, the Braves made the obvious choice: to put off a potential offering until 2019. The decision was made easier by Disney agreeing to discuss a one-year extension of the Champion Stadium lease, which was set to expire after spring training 2017.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in mid-June quoted Braves Vice Chair John Schuerholz, who is leading the team’s search for a new Spring Training home, on the 2019 timeline: “We feel like there’s a real reasonable chance — we’re hopeful — we can do something with Disney to extend [the lease through 2018], even though there will be no teams near us to play. … We’ll just have to live with that, as we will next spring — 2017 — because with the Astros and Nationals moving out, it’ll just be the Tigers nearby.”
The Astros and the Nationals are moving to a new Spring Training complex in Palm Beach County. The Tigers play in Lakeland.