Braves Deliver Detailed Pitch



Details of a potential spring training deal with the Atlanta Braves were greeted by Sarasota County Commissioners and North Port Town Commissioners with enthusiasm Tuesday. Executives from the Braves organization made clear they want to move their operations from Lake Buena Vista to North Port in time for the 2019 pre-season. “We intend to create an incredible complex,” says John Schuerholz, Atlanta Braves president, who made the trek to Sarasota to pitch county officials today.

But while officials expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of a second Major League Baseball team training in the county, there remain financial resources to shore up. The Braves want to open an athletic complex valued between $75 million and $80 million. Sarasota County officials plan to raise $22.1 million in funding, with bonding costs, for the deal, but the deal also relies on $20 million from the State of Florida. The City of North Port would be expected to contribute $4 million to $5 million. West Villages, partnered with Mattamy Homes, plans to provide land for the complex, and would take on the liability for the land if a deal falls through.

The Braves are one of only two teams training in Florida that don’t have a 20- to 30-year lease, and therefore are one of the only ones not already supported with a state grant. County Commissioner Nancy Detert says without a transferable grant, funding from the state could be more difficult to secure. If no state funding is available, “that could be problematic,” Detert says. The Atlanta team wants to sign a 30-year lease with five-year options at the end of that, something that will make a state grant more enticing. But North Port commissioners made their own participation in a deal contingent on the state funding.

Plans right now include a 6,500-seat stadium with 2,500 general admission guests allowed on the berm and a 360-degree concourse walkway, as well as luxury suites. The complex would have six full practice fields and two more half-fields. There would be 750 paved parking spaces on site as well, and plans include multi-use grass parking lots that could also be used as sports fields. A critical facility in the plans would also be a year-round baseball academy, where Braves players could do physical rehab and there could also be sports medicine facilities. County Commissioner Mike Moran said this type of permanent job creation could be the most important part of any deal. “It’s careers I’m looking for in this,” he says.

County Commissioner Charles Hines called the prospect of the Braves training the county: "The biggest announcement I’ve heard in my lifetime.” North Port Commissioners all put on Braves jerseys before voting unanimously to enter negotiations as well. But even while broadcasting enthusiasm, officials in North Port offered a “wish list” of priorities for the city. Mayor Linda Yates stressed that the athletic complex made financial sense for the city primarily because of the prospect of facilities for youth sports available year-round. “It would take us millions of dollars and many years for one multi-year field,” Yates notes; renderings show space for six such fields at the proposed Braves complex.

County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo stressed any deal would have to be negotiated with transparency. “Doing business in Florida is not an easy thing,” he says, noting the state’s open government laws. “It’s sometimes like going to marriage counseling in a comedy club.” But he also stressed that Sarasota County has a community that is engaged and would rightly scrutinize any deal. “We need clear information on who is spending what and what it is being used for,” he says.

Rendering courtesy of West Villages.

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