- March 8, 2016
The game of spring training moves is in full swing, again, with multiple municipalities across Florida set to compete with each other — in many cases dangling taxpayer money.
In 2013 it was the Toronto Blue Jays, who flirted with a move from Dunedin in Pinellas County to Palm Beach Gardens. More recently, the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are on the move, potentially going from Central Florida towns to a new $135 million complex in Palm Beach County.
The latest potential prize: The Atlanta Braves.
The Braves currently hold spring training operations at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. That contract is set to expire before the 2018 season. That makes the Braves a target of other communities, including Sarasota.
One early-stage proposal is for Sarasota County, in partnership with developers of the West Villages in North Port, to build training facilities, practice fields and a 7,500-seat stadium for the Braves. The proposed property, southwest of the intersection of U.S. 41 and River Road, would be in the commercial core of the West Villages, a 10,000-acre live, work and play development. One key to the plan is the county could be required to contribute tourist development tax dollars via a bond to cover construction costs.
Sarasota County commissioners unanimously voted to continue negotiations with the Braves after a March 8 meeting. “This is a very, very big deal,” says Commissioner Chairman Alan Maio. “If it happens, it's a great point of pride for the whole community.”
But does a partially taxpayer-funded deal make long-term fiscal sense for taxpayers?
The history of Sarasota County's other spring training home, Ed Smith Stadium, is one example.
The Chicago White Sox trained there from 1989 to 1997. Then the Cincinnati Reds, after departing Plant City for Sarasota, trained at Ed Smith from 1998 to 2008. The Reds bolted for Arizona after a bond referendum that would have partially funded renovations to Ed Smith failed. Up next: The Baltimore Orioles, which have played at Ed Smith since 2010. A $31.2 million renovation project was completed prior to 2011 season. In between those teams, Sarasota officials courted other teams, including the Boston Red Sox.