Braves ‘interested’ in return to Palm Beach County for spring training

Eighteen years after leaving their long-time spring-training home in West Palm Beach, Fla., the Atlanta Braves are interested in returning to the area.

The Braves, whose lease to train at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando expires after spring training 2017, have been searching Florida for a new spring home for more than a year. Now comes word, first reported by The Palm Beach Post, that the team has hired public affairs consultants to work as lobbyists in Palm Beach County.

"It signals that we feel that there is some level of interest," Braves President John Schuerholz said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Our lobbyist, Tom McNicholas, believed that to be the case, and we are hopeful that is the case.

“We have considerable numbers of years under our belts of experience in that wonderful community. We haven’t really gone any further than to hire a lobbyist to help us figure our way through the Palm Beach County political system and to truly sort of measure what level of interest there might be.

“But we are open-minded and obviously interested in pursuing any community, especially one we know as well as we know Palm Beach County, that might have an interest in having the Atlanta Braves come to their community — or in this case come back to their community,” Schuerholz said. “We will work as hard and fast as we can with the lead work of our lobbyist and see where we go.”

At this point, the Braves’ chances of returning their spring home to the Palm Beach area seems to be something on a longshot.

The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals struck a deal last year to build a new spring facility in West Palm Beach. The county committed $108 million in public funds and the state of Florida another $50 million toward the facility. County Administrator Verdenia Baker told The Post that she is “not aware of any county land or any county revenue sources” available for another stadium for the Braves.

The Braves held spring training in West Palm Beach from 1963 through 1997. They left for Disney in 1998.

The Braves now are seeking a new spring-training home, which likely would involve considerable taxpayer funding, because only one Grapefruit League opponent, the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, will train in convenient proximity to Orlando after the Astros and Nationals relocate from Kissimmee and Viera, respectively.

The Braves' interest in a return to Palm Beach County first surfaced last spring, when real-estate consultants representing the team met with county officials. Nothing seemed to come of that meeting.

The Braves also have had discussions with numerous other groups about locations on the East and West coasts of Florida.

Late last summer, the Braves endorsed a proposal to move their spring-training home to the St. Petersburg area,writing in a letter to Pinellas County officials that the team hoped to reach an agreement by the end of 2015. However, that proposal seemed to be quickly derailed when Major League Baseball said the region should focus instead on building a new regular-season stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

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