Braves’ new spring training stadium gets final approval

The Braves plan to break ground next month on a new spring-training stadium in southwest Florida after the long-in-the-works project received its final governmental approval Tuesday. 

City commissioners in North Port, Fla., voted 3-2 to approve a development agreement, clearing the way for the $100 million stadium complex to be built on what is now undeveloped land in Sarasota County.

The vote came after commissioners raised dozens of questions about the deal over several hours.

“It’s a win,” Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz said of the vote. “It’s an appropriate vote for the North Port community and for all of southern Sarasota County. It’s going to be a great addition.”

The Braves plan to begin holding spring training in the new complex in 2019, moving there from Disney’s Wide World of Sports near Orlando, where the team has trained since 1998.

The project now carries a price tag of $100.56 million, according to financing documents provided to North Port commissioners, up from the previous estimate of $75 million to $80 million. 

The increased cost didn’t change the amount of taxpayer money committed to the project: about $40.4 million toward construction, plus interest. Sarasota County will cover $21.3 million of the construction cost, the state of Florida $14.4 million and North Port $4.7 million. (The state’s commitment is $20 million over 20 years, but that includes interest payments.)

The project’s private developer will contribute $4.7 million. 

The Braves are on the hook for the remaining $55.5 million through a combination of up-front payments of about $18 million and annual payments over 30 years sufficient to cover debt service on $37.5 million in bonds, according to the North Port documents. 

The Braves expect to offset some of their costs by selling naming rights to the stadium.  

The total budget of $100.56 million includes $89.2 million for construction, $3.86 million for a debt-service reserve fund, $1.58 million for debt issuance expenses and $5.91 million for “other project expenses.”  

The facility will be built in the West Villages development in North Port. 

The Braves sought a new spring-training deal to get closer to other teams' facilities and reduce travel time to Grapefruit League games.  Other clubs’ moves had left only one team, the Detroit Tigers, training within an hour’s bus ride of the Disney complex. 

The new site will solve the travel issue by putting the Braves “right in the middle” of a cluster of teams, Schuerholz said.

“There will be nobody in a better place,” Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk said.

Five other teams train within an hour’s drive of the Braves’ new location. 

Plans call for a stadium with a capacity of about 8,000, including 6,200 in fixed seats, 800 in general-admission areas and 1,000 in berm seating. Outfield dimensions, outfield wall heights and foul territory will mirror those at SunTrust Park.  

The complex also will include six full practice fields, two half fields and about 55,000 square feet of clubhouse and office space.  

“This will be one of the most effective spring-training facilities in baseball at doing its job of training a team to be ready for the regular season,” McGuirk said.

The agreement approved Tuesday by North Port was previously accepted by Sarasota County commissioners.

The Braves pursued a new spring-training home in Florida for almost three years, turning their attention solely to Sarasota County in January after previous discussions with Pinellas County (St. Petersburg), Collier County (Naples) and Palm Beach County.

MLB nixed the St. Petersburg possibility by saying the area should focus instead on a new regular-season stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. Collier County commissioners voted unanimously late last year to discontinue talks with the Braves, saying tax dollars should be used instead for beach restoration and roads. Palm Beach County had no apparent funding source after building a stadium that opened this year for the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros. 

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