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Osceola County rejects Washington Nationals spring complex

Washington NationalsFierce opposition from the local tourism industry caused the Osceola County Board of Commissioners to reject a $98-million spring-training complex for the Washington Nationals.

The proposal would have used tourism funds to build the complex near the current Osceola County Stadium, currently the spring home of the Houston Astros. The funding formula: $88 million from tourism taxes (including much of the funds held in reserve by the local tourism board) and $10 million from the state.

One reason for the rejection: it’s not at all clear whether the county needed the Nats as a spring attraction. Orlando’s spring-break economy is already quite strong, as anyone who descends on the area in March knows, and while in other communities the luring of spring training would have a huge impact on county businesses, the move of the Nats to Osceola wouldn’t necessarily have a huge financial impact on local businesses, no matter what the economic-impact studies argue. From the Orlando Sentinel:

The Nationals, who are focused on a new stadium with revenue-generating amenities, have said they would not be interested in using a renovated Osceola County Stadium, which is across U.S. 192 from the proposed new-stadium site.

Leaders in Osceola’s tourism industry expressed concern that the deal would commit too much of the county’s tourist-tax money to allow adequate funding of Experience Kissimmee, the area’s convention and visitors bureau, and would preclude the county from pursuing any other tourist development projects.

Mark Miller, owner of the Arabian Nights attraction on U.S. 192, said stadium backers were using “theoretical numbers to make this look like a fabulous deal.”

For the Nats, it looks like a return to a new-site search, as we’re guessing a long-term commitment to Viera’s Space Coast Stadium is not in the works. Lee County and Fort Myers would love to make a deal for City of Palms Park, but with no renovation funds available, this is a long shot. The New York Mets have been discussing adding a second team to the Port St. Lucie spring training complex, and the Houston Astros still have not formally closed a deal to bring a second team to a proposed Palm Beach Gardens complex, though numerous sources in baseball have pegged the Toronto Blue Jays as being involved in the project.

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