Braves to Transform West Villages Economy

Tourism

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY SEP 5, 2017

With the promise of $20 million in state funding in hand, officials in the West Villages District say the plans for a spring training stadium for the Atlanta Braves can move forward. Now, community leaders will move forward with getting a new commercial area built around the stadium up and running. “We see it as a catalyst to start pushing West Villages interest further ahead,” says Marty Black, general manager for the district.

Government leaders at the state and local level have justified the intense public investment in a professional sports facility based on the promise of additional economic impact. The first major project to come together now that a stadium deal seems all but complete may be the arrival of a major hotel complex connected to the sports facility. Black hopes to soon announce plans a four-star hotel, possibly Marriott-branded, that could dramatically increase the available hospitality facilities in South Sarasota County. 

Jeff Maultsby, Sarasota County economic development director, says this facility will make the entire Gulf Coast a stronger sports tourism destination. He notes that the facility will be a short drive south from Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, where the Baltimore Orioles host spring training, and just north of Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, where the Tampa Bay Rays spend the spring season. A little further in either direction along the coast, you can find the spring homes for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton and the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers. “You can either, as a Major League franchise, spend time on the field training or on the bus getting to an opponent to play and train,” Maultsby. “Obviously, the preference is to be on the field as much as possible.” That’s part of why many teams have left Central Florida facilities. The Braves, which will depart the Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, follow the Houston Astros, who in 2015 announced they would leave Kissimmee, and the Washington Nationals, who this year left Melbourne for West Palm Beach.

Maultsby says since the Orioles moved into Sarasota, the team has delivered an $89-90 million economic impact each year, which helps justify the $21.26 million in county dollars going toward the stadium. With the Braves popularity in the South, officials hope a similar or greater impact in the North Port area. Black says West Villages has already received inquiries from sports medicine and other commercial businesses that would like to open near the stadium.

Now, Black says West Villages leaders are preparing to bring a plan for a commercial main street in front of North Port commissioners, with a meeting scheduled on Sept. 29. The community has hoped for the Braves deal to come together before officially moving forward. “We’ve been working on this deal for two years,” he says. “Now it’s really about the execution.”

Rendering of planned Braves facility in West Villages.

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