The Braves won’t have a new spring-training home as soon as they had hoped.
After aiming for two years to have a new facility built and open in Florida by spring 2018, the Braves have conceded that won’t happen and have pushed back their timetable, team executives told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“We’re now focusing on 2019,” said Braves vice chairman John Schuerholz, who is leading the team’s search for a new spring home. “It’s moving slowly enough that we have to adjust, and our target for a new facility is 2019.”
The Braves’ lease at Disney’s Wide World of Sports near Orlando, where the team has trained since 1998, expires after next spring. The Braves had hoped to relocate to either coast of Florida in 2018, most recently holding talks with officials in Palm Beach County and Sarasota County. But those talks haven’t progressed fast enough to keep a 2018 opening of a new facility a viable possibility at this point.
So the Braves recently had a “substantive conversation” with Disney officials, Schuerholz said, about a one-year extension that would keep the team training there in 2018.
“We feel like there’s a real reasonable chance — we’re hopeful — we can do something with Disney to extend for another spring, even though there will be no teams near us to play,” Schuerholz said. “We’ll just have to live with that, as we will next spring — 2017 — because with the Astros and Nationals moving out, it’ll just be the Tigers nearby.”
The moves next spring of the Astros and Nationals from Kissimmee and Viera, respectively, to a new taxpayer-funded stadium in West Palm Beach will leave one team training within 70 miles of the Disney complex: the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland. That is the main reason the Braves are seeking a new spring site.
They want to get closer to other teams’ facilities and reduce the time spent on buses traveling to Grapefruit League road games.
But the Braves, who have a recent history of seeking and getting taxpayer-funded major- and minor-league stadiums, want a spring-training deal involving a substantial amount of public money.
“Disappointed, but there’s also a realism attached to it as well,” Schuerholz said of the inability to get a new facility for 2018.
“It’s a difficult time. Counties have to have the capacity and the willingness and the political support. Not that they don’t, but it takes time to generate that and get the votes put in place. And we’ve got a couple of spots that are interested in us.”
Those, he said, remain Palm Beach and Sarasota counties “as the two principal ones.”
“I would say ‘disappointed’ is the wrong word because the decision to go a little further out is our decision,” Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk said. “We probably could have hustled something up, but we’re comfortable in making sure we’re making the right choice.
“There’s enough interest — and enough additional interest that seems to be coming over the transom — that it’s worth looking at everything.”
McGuirk seemed optimistic about working out a one-year extension with Disney for 2018.
“About all we can say is that the relationship is so good between us and Disney,” he said.
If an extension isn’t worked out, the Braves would have to find another existing Florida stadium for a makeshift 2018 arrangement.
The Braves have explored numerous possibilities for a new long-term spring base.
Last summer, team officials endorsed a proposal to build a facility in the St. Petersburg area. But that quickly was derailed when MLB said the area should focus instead on building a regular-season stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Two months ago, a proposal to build a spring stadium for the Braves on a site in Collier County, near Naples on Florida’s southwest coast, struck out with county commissioners because of opposition from nearby residents.
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