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Palm Beach debates new ‘Stros, Nats complex

Houston Astros spring trainingPalm Beach County officials are debating a funding plan for a new $140-million Houston Astros/Washington Nationals West Palm Beach spring training complex, with several holes in the plan to be plugged.

The Astros and Nationals have pitched Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach officials on a plan for a new ballpark and training complex at a West Palm Beach site south of 45th Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail. The plan has been changed often in recent weeks; right now it calls for the city to sell the site to Palm Beach County, which would use a combination of state money, hotel taxes and Astros/Nationals lease payments to pay for the West Palm Beach spring training complex.

But the plan is far from a done deal. Besides a $24 million funding gap, county and city officials are squabbling over the other side’s financial contributions to the project. The county is committed to $3 million a year for 30 years. In addition, there’s an offer from a private developer to buy the property eyed for a spring training complex, which would bring money into city coffer and keep the property on the tax rolls. From the Palm Beach Post:

“If West Palm Beach doesn’t want to play ball, then there’s no baseball,’’ said County Commissioner Paulette Burdick, one of several commissioners critical of the city for not contributing anything to the stadium proposed on city land.

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said it’s not fair to expect the city to give the county the 160-acre stadium site for free when the city isn’t getting anything in return.

“I’m sure they would like to say that if baseball fails, it will be the city’s fault. I think the (county commissioners) need to look at themselves,’’ Muoio said.

There are some important deadlines coming up: West Palm Beach officials are scheduled to discuss the future of the proposed ballpark site on Oct. 14, while the Nats and the Astros have a Oct. 21 deadline to propose any changes to the proposed funding plan.

To say this is a huge decision regarding the future of spring training on the Treasure Coast is an understatement. The New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins have clauses in their ballpark contracts providing for an out should there be fewer than four teams training in the general Treasure Coast area. Washington, playing out of Space Coast Stadium, is the fourth team in that group, and if a West Palm Beach spring training complex happens, it ties the Cards and Marlins to Roger Dean Stadium through 2027. If the Nats do move out of the general Treasure Coast area, we could see a mass migration to Arizona or Florida’s Tampa/Gulf Coast region.

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