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Braves scout Palm Beach in spring training search

The Braves have called Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando their spring training home since 1998. The team's lease expires in two years.
The Braves have called Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando their spring training home since 1998. The team's lease expires in two years.

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

The Braves’ search for a new spring-training home in Florida has taken them back to their past.

Real-estate consultants representing the Braves recently met with officials in Palm Beach County, where the team held spring training from 1963 until leaving for Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando in 1998, about a possible return.

While there is no indication at this point that the Braves would be able to make a deal with Palm Beach County, the meeting with officials there — first reported by the Palm Beach Post — underscores the team’s commitment to searching both the east and west coasts of Florida for a new spring base. The team’s lease with Disney expires after two more years.

The Braves have engaged commercial real-estate services firm JLL — the same firm working with the team on its new stadium and mixed-use development in Cobb County — to “assist us (with) site finding in Florida,” Braves president John Schuerholz said.

“They have talked to a number of communities to find out what the level of interest is or might be,” Schuerholz told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They visited not only Palm Beach County but several other counties as well.”

Schuerholz would not name the others. A Florida sports official told the AJC last month that he’d heard of Braves’ discussions with or about the cities of Venice (near Sarasota), Naples, Fort Myers and others.

Schuerholz said two JLL (formerly known as Jones Lang LaSalle) consultants informed him after the meeting in West Palm Beach that the county officials “were assessing their level of interest.” No further meetings have been scheduled.

The county earlier this year committed $108 million in public funds and the state of Florida another $50 million toward a new West Palm Beach stadium to be shared by the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros beginning in 2017. That will make the county the spring home of four teams, with the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins already sharing a stadium in Jupiter.

Palm Beach County mayor Shelley Vana described the March meeting with the consultants representing the Braves this way in the Palm Beach Post:

“They said, ‘What do you think about adding another team?’

“I said, ‘You’re a little late. It’s already done.’”

Vana added that one of the consultants replied he wished he “would have gotten here sooner.”

The Braves’ decision almost 20 years ago to move to Disney isn’t forgotten in Palm Beach County.

Karen Marcus, a county commissioner when the Braves left, was quoted in the Post article as saying it “would be awesome” to get the team back. But she also said, “There are some things you don’t forget, and that’s one of them — how they snuck out of town on a Friday night. … Ol’ John Schuerholz snuck out in the middle of the night to go to Disney and now he wants out.”

Schuerholz told the AJC that his view of the Braves’ departure is different. He said the Braves reached a deal with Disney only after negotiations on a new facility in Palm Beach County “just didn’t work out” despite several years of effort.

“It was a delightful experience for us in Palm Beach County,” Schuerholz said. “We were just moving from an aging facility (in West Palm Beach) and looking for a better location for a new facility. … I think we have a great relationship with Palm Beach County.”

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

A third Palm Beach County stadium apparently would be needed to accommodate the Braves. Schuerholz indicated the Braves wouldn’t be interested in sharing a facility with two other teams because of logistical issues.

Schuerholz said the Braves seek a location with “community, political and economic” interest in hosting the team, as well as a location near other teams’ training facilities to reduce travel time to exhibition games. But he said it’s too early to know which cities or counties are possible matches.

“It would just be speculation about whether they’re interested, whether they’re not interested, whether we’re going to go there, whether we’re not going to go there,” Schuerholz said. “We don’t know any of that. We’re doing our due diligence, talking to as many communities as we can. Once we find out who might be interested, then we’ll go further.”