Baseballs cover the field in the early morning light during spring training at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports. The Braves are seeking to move their spring home from Disney to Sarasota County in 2019. (Curtis Compton/

Braves agree on key terms for new spring home

Six weeks after the Braves entered exclusive negotiations with Sarasota County, Fla., about a new spring-training facility, the parties have reached agreement on the key terms of a proposed deal.

A 27-page term sheet and letter of intent, outlining the financial and operational details of a deal, will be considered by the board of commissioners of the southwest Florida county at a meeting Tuesday.

If the commissioners approve the agreement, as is being recommended by county staff, a series of more definitive final contracts will be negotiated.

The term sheet describes a $75.4 million facility to be built in the city of North Port and funded by Sarasota County, the state of Florida, North Port, the Braves and a private developer.

The stadium, to open in time for the Braves’ 2019 spring training, would have 6,500 fixed seats and 1,500 berm seats. The outfield dimensions would mirror those of SunTrust Park, the Braves’ new home in Cobb County.

The spring complex would include six full practice fields, two half fields and a 55,000-square-foot building to house major- and minor-league clubhouses and executive offices, according to the proposed agreement.

The deal, if approved and completed, would continue the Braves’ penchant for securing taxpayer funds for stadiums. Previous such projects include SunTrust Park and minor-league stadiums in Gwinnett County, Rome, and Pearl, Miss.

About $21.3 million of the cost of the spring-training facility would be covered by bonds to be repaid from Sarasota County tourism taxes and another $13.1 million by bonds to be repaid by the state of Florida, according to the term sheet. The state money, if approved, would come from a spring-training retention fund.

The remaining $41 million in bonds, plus interest, would be repaid from contributions over 30 years from North Port ($300,000 per year), the developer ($300,000 per year) and the Braves ($2 million to $2.5 million per year, the exact amount depending on annual debt service).

In addition, Sarasota County and the Braves would share capital maintenance costs, with each contributing a total of about $5.6 million over 30 years.

The Braves would be responsible for the up-front costs, estimated at $7.5 million, of furniture, fixtures and equipment not included in the $75.4 million budget, such as the main video board.

Beyond the shared capital maintenance costs, the Braves would be responsible for all routine expenses of operating and maintaining the facility. The team would retain all revenue, except from a limited number of county and developer events. The Braves plan to sell the naming rights.

The facility would be part of a master-planned community in the West Villages district in North Port.

The deal also is subject to approval of the North Port city commission, which will consider it after the county commission acts.

According to the term sheet, the developer intends to build a mixed-use complex beyond the left-field wall of the stadium. The complex will be built in phases, “subject to market conditions,” with the first phase planned for a fall 2019 opening. The development will potentially include residences, a hotel and commercial, retail and office space.

Also as part of the training facility, but not included in its $75.4 million budget, the Braves plan a privately funded “academy” that would operate year-round for player development and rehabilitation purposes. It could include lodging accommodations for up to 145 players and staff, a 200-seat dining hall and a 200-seat auditorium.

The Braves, who have held spring training at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports near Orlando since 1998, have sought a new spring home in Florida for more than two years in order to get closer to other teams’ facilities.

Braves officials discussed possible deals with Pinellas County (St. Petersburg), Collier County (Naples) and Palm Beach County, but none of those talks gained much momentum.

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

The Braves agreed Jan. 17 to negotiate exclusively with Sarasota County, which had been in talks with the team since early last year.

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