The bat and glove of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers lean against a fence during spring training at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Board to consider $100 million Braves spring stadium in Naples

As the Braves continue their long search for a new spring-training home, commissioners in Collier County, Fla., are scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to pursue negotiations with the team to build a $100 million stadium in a Naples development.

A preliminary feasibility study, which will be presented to the commissioners, shows the project would be funded largely with taxpayer dollars.

Collier County is on Florida’s southwest coast.

The Braves, seeking to relocate their spring home from Disney World in 2019, also continue to consider other sites in Florida, including one in Sarasota County.

Collier commissioners in April rejected a proposal to build a Braves spring-training stadium in a location deemed too close to residences, but the team in June asked the county to consider further discussions. The county’s resulting feasibility study suggests a different site “in the urban area near adequate highway transportation and away from residential enclaves.”

The proposed 70-acre site is in the City Gate commercial development near I-75 on the east side of Naples.

Adding an interesting twist to Tuesday’s meeting: Three of the five positions on the Board of Commissioners have turned over since the rejection of the earlier proposal. The new commissioners will be sworn in an hour before taking up the Braves matter.

“It’s unfortunate that this has to come to a new board so early, but we’re really working off the Braves’ schedule,” Collier County Manager Leo Ochs told the Naples Daily News.

A county document states that if the Board of Commissioners opts to proceed, “staff would immediately begin negotiations with the team and the landowner with an expectation to bring back a tentative draft agreement within 90 days. … Without significant interest from the Board, staff would recommend ending our participation due to the time sensitive nature of this consideration.”

The feasibility study indicates the project, including costs of construction, land acquisition and parking, could be paid for with an increase in the county’s hotel tax from 4 percent to 5 percent, as well as money from the state of Florida, the Braves and the county’s general fund.

The study suggests debt service and operating expenses would cost up to $9.7 million per year and could be covered with $5.2 million from the hotel tax increase, up to $1 million from the state, up to $2.5 million from the Braves and $1 million from the general fund.

Even if commissioners vote to proceed with negotiations and reach a tentative agreement with the Braves, the same board would have to vote again on a zoning change and the hotel tax increase.

The Braves, who have a recent history of securing taxpayer dollars for major- and minor-league stadiums, want to leave the Disney complex, where they have held spring training since 1998, to get closer to other teams’ facilities.

Discussions also continue with a development in the Sarasota County city of North Port. In addition, the Braves have expressed interest in sites in Palm Beach County and, early in the process, the St. Petersburg area.

After aiming for two years to have a new spring home open by 2018, the Braves in June re-set their target to 2019.

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