State conditionally approves $20 million for Atlanta Braves Spring Training complex in North Port

County Commission and North Port Commission to vote on final agreements Sept. 12

A May rendering shows tentative plans for the Atlanta Braves complex in the West Villages. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Aug. 31, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity conditionally approved $20 million for the new Atlanta Braves spring training complex planned for the West Villages in North Port, Sarasota County announced.

On Aug. 8, Martin Black, chair of the West Villages Improvement District, told The Sarasota News Leader that, based on an Aug. 4 phone conversation he had had with state officials, he anticipated receiving the preliminary certification letter approving the grant before the end of August.

Earlier this summer, the West Villages Improvement District, along with Sarasota County staff, the City of North Port and the Atlanta Braves, filed the grant application seeking funding to help with facility construction costs.

The grant is the final piece of financing necessary to move the project forward, a county news release pointed out.

“We are pleased to have the state join the partnership of the city, county, West Villages Improvement District, Mattamy Homes [developer of the West Villages] and the Atlanta Braves to make this a reality,” said Black in the county news release.

“We are excited to be building a state-of-the-art spring training facility in this beautiful community,” John Schuerholz, Atlanta Braves vice chair, added in the release. “We have truly found some incredible partners in Sarasota County, West Villages and the City of North Port, and we look forward to training and playing there for many years to come.”

In an application County Administrator Tom Harmer submitted to the state in late July regarding a grant for improvements to River Road, county staff wrote, “The total economic impact of the Atlanta Braves Spring Training from 2019 to 2048 is estimated to be $1,715,360,514 [emphasis in the document].” County staff also anticipates the creation of 59 annual jobs and 82 indirect jobs to support the Spring Training activities at the new stadium complex, the application added.

On May 23, the County Commission voted unanimously to approve an operating agreement and a non-relocation agreement with the Braves. At that time, Commissioner Charles Hines stressed that the county’s primary funding contribution to the project would come in the form of Tourist Development Tax revenue to cover the debt on a bond of $21,262,000 to the West Villages Improvement District. The “bed tax” visitors to the county pay would be used to create another attraction for tourists, he explained.

An aerial map shows the location of the Spring Training complex. Image courtesy Sarasota County

(That bond amount, staff said, is the maximum the county can borrow under the provisions of its charter without having to seek voter approval.)

The total estimated cost of the new facilities is between $75 million and $80 million, Jeff Maultsby, director of business and economic development for the county, has told the board members.

On July 25, the North Port City Commission voted 3-2 to approve a $4.7-million lump-sum payment to the West Villages Improvement District — out of surtax revenue — as its part of the funding package.

The City of North Port Commission and the County Commission — along with the West Villages Improvement District — have scheduled reviews on Sept. 12 of the final documents necessary for the project to proceed, the county news release pointed out. If all of those boards approve the agreements on that date, the complex will be fully funded, the release added, and construction can start, with an eye to the Braves conducting their 2019 spring training season in the West Villages.

The draft agreement prepared for the North Port Commission includes this list of features for the ballpark. Image courtesy City of North Port

The draft agreement prepared for the North Port Commission indicates the target date for the complex to be completed is Jan. 15, 2019. A section of the document says that if the facilities cannot be finished in time for the Braves to hold Spring Training games in the West Villages in 2019, then the West Villages Improvement District and the county “shall assist [the Braves] with finding an alternative temporary site reasonably acceptable to [the team] … until such time as the Facility is complete …”

The County Commission meeting is scheduled to be held at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice. Its agenda was not available prior to the News Leader’s deadline for this issue.

The North Port Commission will meet at 1 p.m. at City Hall in North Port. The agreement with the Braves will be considered among several items listed under the General Business heading on the agenda.