Braves Enter Exclusive Negotiations With Sarasota



The Atlanta Braves entered exclusive negotiations with Sarasota County to move spring training operations to North Port. Braves officials say the team could be here as soon as the 2019 pre-season if a deal is reached, which would mean Sarasota County for the first time would host two Major League Baseball teams for spring training. Plans for a stadium that could cost $80 million or more will be paid for in part with approximately $21 million in public funding, but county officials stressed that would come from tourist development tax revenue and that local taxpayers would not be on the hook for the cost.

Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk on Tuesday broadcast optimism about North Port becoming the new spring home of the Atlanta team. “"This is the perfect location for our team and we couldn't be more excited to be part of Sarasota County and West Villages,” he says.

The Braves for 20 years have trained at facilities on the Walt Disney World resort property in Central Florida, but most teams training in Florida have migrated training operations south. County Commissioner Alan Miao says he’s excited at the prospect of the team in North Port, now Sarasota County’s most populous city. “I don’t want to prejudge it,” Maio says, “but I know there is significant involvement from the private sector and we have got multiple jurisdictions. That the Braves are desirous of coming here, it’s a big deal, and I am sure we will manage to put together a deal.”

The deal as it stands now requires a level of reallotment of bed tax revenue. Jeff Maultsby, Sarasota County economic development coordinator, says the potential contribution from the county government was always limited with the maximum charter cap limit for tourist development tax. The Braves deal as it stands now calls for about $21 million. “No money is coming out of any taxpayers’ pockets,” he says. “This is funded by visitors who stay in our hotels.”

But that revenue source also funds the Orioles spring training facility, a rowing venue at Nathan Benderson Park and beach renourishment, among other tourism-related expenditures. Some reallocation will be necessary to fund the deal, but Visit Sarasota County President Virginia Haley says that will be worth it. “I’m sure we are going to feel a little bit of pain in our budget,” she says, “but we’ll be able to put together the ending we need.”

A combination of state funding, City of North Port contributions and county tourist development tax dollars could be used in the deal, along with funding from the Braves. A major part of discussions includes land provided at no public expense by the West Villages Improvement District. Mattamy Homes also played a major role in negotiations, officials say. ”The stadium complex blends will into our master plan for the area,” says West Villages General Manager Marty Black. “It will become an anchor for our future entertainment district and complement our planned new downtown Main Street development."

Sarasota County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo says elected officials are still awaiting more details themselves, and will receive a public update next week. “Everything I know could fit on an index card,” he says. He still wants to know how a final deal is structured to determine if a deal is good for the community. “I want to hear the pitch,” he says, “no pun intended.”

Pictured: Braves Pitcher Tim Hudson delivers a pitch during spring training at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

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