Braves zero in on Sarasota County for spring training

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Braves zero in on Sarasota County for spring training

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Baseball pennants in the outfield cast large shadows across the field at Champion Stadium as Braves top prospect Dansby Swanson makes an early morning walk to the batting cages to begin his day of spring training on Thursday, Feb 25, 2016, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

After a two-year search, the Braves may have found their new spring-training home.

Officials in Sarasota County, Fla., announced Tuesday that the Braves have entered into exclusive negotiations to build a facility in the southwest Florida city of North Port.

If terms are agreed upon and approved, the Braves will move their spring base from Disney World to Sarasota County as soon as 2019.

“Hopefully this thing goes forward, the county commissioners vote on it, and off we go,” Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Tuesday.

“We have a really positive view of how the county is looking at this opportunity,” Schuerholz said. “I don’t believe there will be any large level of concern that it wouldn’t be approved, but we don’t know until they confer and decide. But we’re optimistic.”

Sarasota County Administrator Tom Harmer, in the announcement posted on the county’s website, said: “There’s still a lot of work to do to finalize the terms, agreements and approvals necessary, but this … is a major step forward in the efforts to bring the Braves to our area.”

The planned site is located in the West Villages area of North Port. West Villages’ development partners, including Mattamy Homes, are involved in the negotiations to help “structure and secure both the public and private investments,” the county said.

In the announcement, Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk called North Port “the perfect location for our team,” adding: “We couldn’t be more excited to be part of Sarasota County and West Villages.”

Neither the Braves nor the county disclosed the projected cost or the proposed funding plan.

A feasibility study late last year by another southwest Florida county — Collier — indicated a Braves spring-training facility would cost about $100 million and would be funded largely with taxpayer dollars. Collier County commissioners voted in December to break off talks with the Braves about a possible facility near Naples.

The Braves have been in discussions with a number of Florida cities and counties over the past couple of years, including Palm Beach County and St. Petersburg. Sarasota County has long been in the mix, and Schuerholz said a meeting within the past week achieved progress that convinced the Braves to make the negotiations exclusive.

“I am quite optimistic this last meeting we had moved our project forward quite well,” Schuerholz said.

According to Sarasota County, the parties will work over the next several months to finalize terms. The county plans to provide a public update at a Board of Commissioners meeting next week.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the entire region,” commission chairman Paul Caragiulo said in a statement. “The potential economic impact for our community could be tremendous. We are looking forward to hearing more details about the negotiations next week.”

At a meeting last March, Sarasota County commissioners voted unanimously to authorize Harmer to pursue negotiations with the Braves. The concept under discussion then called for the West Villages developers to donate the land for the stadium complex and for money from local tourism taxes and the state of Florida to help pay for construction.

“The stadium complex blends well into our master plan for the area,” West Villages general manager Marty Black said in a statement Tuesday. “It will become an anchor for our future entertainment district and complement our planned new downtown Main Street development.”

The Braves have held spring training at Disney’s Wide World of Sports near Orlando since 1998 and will train there through 2018. Team officials have been seeking a new location primarily to get closer to other teams’ facilities and reduce travel time to Grapefruit League games.

“This is as good as I think we have felt in this entire process,” Schuerholz said.

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