More Details Emerge on New Braves Spring Camp in North Port

Proposed Atlanta Braves Sarasota County spring complex

More details about a proposed Atlanta Braves spring-training camp in North Port, including a funding plan and the scope of the project, were revealed to the public at a meeting of the Sarasota County Commissioners today.

Right now things are still in the proposal stage, with nothing final beyond the commitment between the Braves and Sarasota County on exclusive negotiations. But the presentation from Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz filled in a lot of gaps regarding public funding — and also pointed out some potential pitfalls.

Total capacity for the ballpark would be 9,000 (6,500 fixed seats, 2,500 berm/standing room), complete with suites and a 360-degree concourse, with the complex featuring six full and two half practice fields, a player academy, training spaces and major- and minor-league clubhouses. The entire complex is slated to cost between $75 million and $80 million, with $20 million coming from the state, $22.1 million from Sarasota County in the form of hotel bed taxes, between $4 million and $5 million from the city of North Port, and the rest from the Braves and the West Villages developer and development partners, including land and infrastructure. The Braves would commit to a 30-year lease.

The goal is to be in the new complex by 2019, and the clock is ticking. There are still plenty of negotiations ahead (a city contribution need to be finalized), with the next steps a letter of intent, a lease, implementation of the bed tax and other governmental approvals. During today’s meeting, there was some question about how the new ballpark would fit into a rapidly changing area as well. And state funding is far from assured. St. Lucie County is still waiting for state approval on a proposed $20-million grant for Tradition Field renovations, but the state did pay $50 million toward The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the new spring home of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

“We can’t wait until this complex comes out of the ground and we make that our home for the next 30 years in Sarasota County,” Schuerholz said….

“We know what it takes to have a win-win, to be beneficial, to be good partners, and we intend to do that here,” Schuerholz continued. “We only hope you give us that opportunity … We are very, very confident that we will come to a very, very successful, mutually beneficial agreement that we can announce soon.”…

“We enjoy what Sarasota County has to offer. We’ve done our due diligence, we know what this county is about, we know what their leadership is about, we know what their commitment to projects is like,” Schuerholz said after the presentation. “They know about ours as well; we’re regarded as the gold standard organization in Major League Baseball. That will be a great partnership.”

North Port is in the southern park of Sarasota County. Despite being part of the Sarasota-Bradenton MSA, North Port is much close to Port Charlotte (11 miles or so) than Sarasota (34 miles or so). That puts Port Charlotte’s Charlotte Sports Park, spring home of the Tampa Bay Rays, less than 10 miles from North Port. (The Baltimore Orioles train at Sarasota’s Ed Smith Stadium.) The team has been looking at the West Villages area of North Port, with direct access to U.S. 41 and West Villages Parkway.

The ballpark is envisioned as the center of a new planned Main Street entertainment district, a model that’s worked well in other parts of Florida — especially Abacoa, a Palm Beach County development anchored by Roger Dean Stadium.

About Kevin Reichard

Kevin Reichard is editor and publisher of Spring Training Online.

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