Big League Development

GCBX

BY MARY DOUGHERTY-SLAPP SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY MAR 4, 2017

We all know the words to that famous song, “Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowd.” And I can almost smell the peanuts and Cracker Jacks as Sarasota’s spring training season swings into high gear. As a New Yorker at heart, my loyalty lies with the Mets, but I must admit, it’s the Braves that have me becoming a raving fan these days.

More recently, I have lived in South Sarasota County—since 1979 to be exact. Our area has seen steady growth since then and promises more to come. In fact, in 2008, North Port became the city with the largest population within Sarasota County. Some of the lowest impact fees and utility and land costs in Southwest Florida have undoubtedly contributed to this economic development.

Even with the positive growth we’ve seen over the years in South County, the proposed project for the Atlanta Braves Spring Training and Academy Facilities may be one of the biggest game-changers our region has ever experienced. In 2019, we will hopefully see 70 acres of pastureland in the West Villages, an emerging master-planned community in South County, transformed into a multimillion-dollar facility.

There are a number of players involved here. The Atlanta Braves, the primary lessee, are expected to contribute an estimated $7.5 million initial investment and another $5.6 million toward facility maintenance for the Major League baseball club's proposed project. The Braves would sign a 30-year initial lease with two 5-year options, with annual lease payments estimated between $2 million and $2.5 million. On top of that, the Atlanta Braves Academy is proposing a year-round sports rehabilitation and player development facility at around $8 million to $10 million and a Community Public Park and Plaza for entertainment, farmers market and events. A multi-purpose sports facility for community use is also being planned with the benefit of overflow parking for the stadium.

Other partners on this project include Sarasota County, the ultimate facility owner and lessor; City of North Port, the local community funding partner and host city; West Villages Improvement District, the local funding conduit; and Manasota Beach Ranchlands, the private sector funding and development partner.

Through this plan, the Tourism Bed Tax funds would be utilized, and the county’s contribution would equal around $22 million. The state, City of North Port and the West Villages also intend to provide funds to support the plan. Locally, Visit Sarasota County has endorsed the proposed budget model along with the county's Tourist Development Council.

The West Villages, a Keystone member of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, has already committed to utilize local contractors whenever and wherever possible during this process. This is great news for the local economy and means more construction jobs for local contractors.

This is a significant and an advantageous development for our region, one that could further bolster South County and set it on the path for future success. I applaud the elected officials for coming together on this exciting project, and I encourage them to stay the course through its successful completion. The Gulf Coast Builders Exchange endorses this economic development plan that we see as a home run for the region.

Mary Doughtery-Slapp is executive director of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange.

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