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

Florida county rejects Braves’ spring stadium

The Braves struck out Tuesday with a county commission in southwest Florida, which unanimously rejected further negotiations with the team about building a spring-training stadium in the Naples area.

The Collier County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 to discontinue talks with the Braves, who are seeking public funds for a new spring home for 2019 and beyond.

A feasibility study by the county, which had been in discussions with the Braves for about six months, suggested the stadium project would cost as much as $101 million and would be funded largely with taxpayer dollars.

Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz spoke to the board before its vote, asking commissioners to “give us a chance to negotiate with Collier County so that we might someday locate our spring-training facility here.”

As it turned out, that won’t happen.

“We learned there was not the positive momentum that you need to have a project like that go forward,” Schuerholz told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the vote. “So that’s that as far as Collier County is concerned.”

Nine members of the public spoke to the board about the project Tuesday, with seven expressing firm opposition to using taxpayer money.

Commissioners shared that concern, with several saying during the meeting, which was streamed on the county’s website, that money should go toward beach restoration or roads instead of a stadium.

They also questioned the value the county would get from the project, considering that spring training falls during an already busy tourist season.

“As much as I love sports tourism … in this particular situation we don’t need any tourists in February and March,” Commissioner Donna Fiala said. “We already have so much that we’re overloaded with it. And to try and add more is just going to complicate moving around the county even more than it is right now.

“Secondly, it says right here (in the feasibility study) the team almost always retains all revenue streams from facility operations. So that means we get to pay for the facility and they get to keep the revenue generated from it. That doesn’t hit me right.”

Commissioner Andy Solis said the Braves’ time frame for building the stadium is “undoable” and “unrealistic” in his mind.

The Braves, who have a recent history of securing taxpayer dollars for major- and minor-league stadiums, have been searching for a new spring-training home for more than two years.

They want to leave Disney World’s sports complex, where they have trained since 1998, to get closer to other teams’ facilities on either coast of Florida. After originally aiming to move in spring 2018, the Braves re-set their target to 2019 because of a lack of progress in talks with several counties.

The team continues to have discussions with a development in the Sarasota County city of North Port, Schuerholz said. The team also is “continuing to talk to Palm Beach County,” he said.

“It has been slow going, and I don’t think any of us expected that,” Schuerholz said. “We’re still in communication — still grinding along — with Palm Beach County and also Sarasota County.”

Collier County’s study said the project would have required an increase in the local 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 estimated debt service and operating expenses would have cost up to $9.7 million per year and could have been covered by $5.2 million from the hotel tax increase, $1 million from the state, up to $2.5 million from the Braves and $1 million from the general fund.

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