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Sarasota County OKs operating agreement for Braves’ spring facility

The Braves’ planned move of their spring-training home from Disney World to southwest Florida cleared another governmental hurdle Tuesday.

The Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously to approve an operating agreement that spells out the terms and conditions of a new facility for the Braves and a non-relocation agreement that requires the team to hold spring training in the complex for 30 years.

The 48-page operating agreement sets a targeted completion date of Jan. 15, 2019, for construction of the facility, which is to be built in the Sarasota County city of North Port.

Tuesday’s 5-0 vote by the county commissioners marked the latest in a series of approvals required for the project to proceed. Before construction begins, two more contracts must be completed among the parties and a portion of the funding must be secured from the state of Florida.

“This is probably step three or four on our march down this highway,” Commissioner Nancy Detert said at Tuesday’s meeting, which was streamed on the county’s website. “When it comes to negotiating, we hope our lawyer beat up their lawyer and we’re the winners. … I think this particular stadium will be a particular boon to North Port because it creates a destination in North Port, a reason to go there.”

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The deal calls for Sarasota County, the state of Florida, North Port, the Braves and a developer to jointly fund the project, which is estimated to cost $75 million to $80 million.

More than $45 million in taxpayer money is involved, including a previously approved $21.3 million from Sarasota County tourism taxes. Approvals of the operating and non-relocation agreements clear the way to apply, probably within the next two weeks, for a $20 million grant spread over 20 years from the state of Florida’s spring-training retention fund.

Under the deal, the Braves would make annual payments of $2 million to $2.5 million toward debt service. The team would retain all revenue from its events in the stadium and from the sale of naming rights. It would be responsible for routine operating and maintenance expenses and would split about $11.3 million in capital improvement expenses with the county over 30 years.

Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines called the deal fair for all parties.

“This really had to be a fair deal for everybody involved because nobody really had any leverage over anybody,” Hines said. “We want the Braves here — I do — but we didn’t need them. Don’t take that personally, Atlanta, but we had a baseball team (the Baltimore Orioles, who hold spring training in Sarasota). … I think this is a win-win agreement.”

The Braves were represented at the commission meeting by consultant Dean Taylor.

The Braves plan to train at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando for the final time in 2018.

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