Braves Complex Could Be Biggest in Area



A sprawling athletic complex for the Atlanta Braves in North Port could end up as the biggest spring training campus for any of the Major League Baseball clubs in the area. Renderings of a plan, provided by the West Villages Improvement District and drawn by Lakewood Ranch-based firm Fawley-Bryant Architects, shows a new facility with space for sports uses beyond just baseball.

Renderings show how the athletic complex fit into the largely undeveloped improvement district, which today houses the Gran Paradiso neighborhoods and Islandwalk neighborhoods. West Villages planners will set aside 70 to 80 acres on site. 

Fawley-Bryant is a notable architecture choice both because the firm is based locally and because it developed sports venues including the renovated Pittsburgh Pirates stadium in Bradenton. The plans drawn up by the firm show a stadium with wrap-around boardwalk seating, an amenity familiar to those who have attended events at the Pirates facility. But beyond the stadium, there is room for five to seven practice fields, along with a number of smaller diamonds, and both a clubhouse and an academy for injured players undergoing rehabilitation. Grass parking areas also provide room for multi-purpose fields, with renderings showing capacity for six full-size soccer fields at the complex. West Villages spokeswoman Sondra Guffey stresses that the plans remain fluid and could change substantially before any construction were to take place.

Right now, the Baltimore Orioles play at Ed Smith Stadium in the City of Sarasota, their home since 2010 after a deal was reached for a $31-million renovation of that facility, and also use facilities at Twin Lakes Park south of the city. The Pirates signed a 30-year lease with Bradenton in 2008 after a $20-million renovation at McKechnie Field and Pirate City. The Pirates have trained in Bradenton since 1969.

Sarasota County commissioners will hear an update today on negotiations with the Braves, less than a week after the ball club announced it had entered into exclusive negotiations with the county about moving training from the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista to this area within two years. “There is a concerted effort to advance a project that would facilitate spring training in Sarasota County for the 2019 season,” County Administrator Thomas Harmer wrote in a memo to county commissioners. Jason Bartolotta, a Sarasota County spokesperson, says administration officials believe they are within three to six months of finalizing a deal with the team, and more specifics of any arrangement will be discussed at a meeting today. Representatives from the Braves are expected to be present. 

Costs for a stadium are estimated at $75-80 million right now and will be paid for in part with approximately $21 million in county funding from the tourist development tax. West Villages will provide the land at no public cost, and the City of North Port will also be asked to contribute along with state funding in the mix. Florida in recent years has awarded grants for spring training venues in an attempt to stop a migration of teams from the Grapefruit League to the Cactus League in Arizona.

Rendering courtesy of West Villages Improvement District.

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