Sarasota County OKs term sheet for new Braves spring-training complex

The Braves moved a significant step closer to getting a new spring-training home when the Sarasota County, Fla., board of commissioners Tuesday approved an agreement outlining key terms of a deal to build a $75.4 million complex.

Despite voicing concerns about some aspects of the deal, the commissioners in the southwest Florida county voted 4-1 to approve a 27-page term sheet/letter of intent previously accepted by the Braves.

A series of more definitive final contracts still must be negotiated and approved.

The term sheet calls for the stadium and training complex to be built in the city of North Port and to be funded by Sarasota County, the state of Florida, North Port, the Braves and a private developer. The deal includes more than $40 million in taxpayer money.

North Port’s city commission is expected to vote on the terms next week.

The Braves, who have held spring training at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports near Orlando since 1998, hope to move to the new facility in 2019.

Even though provisions in the term sheet are meant to be binding, several Sarasota County commissioners expressed concerns that they want their negotiators to address in the final contracts. The negotiators will have leverage over the Braves, some commissioners suggested, because further votes of the same group are required before the facility is built.

Commission chairman Paul Caragiulo expressed concern that the deal doesn’t provide enough community access to the practice fields year-round.

Caragiulo cast the only vote against approving the terms, saying he is “a big fan of the idea” but “just still not comfortable enough to support this today.”

Two commissioners, both of whom ultimately voted to approve, objected to a provision that would give the Braves all revenue from stadium naming rights.

“I really would like to see us be tougher in the negotiation department because I do think we’re in the catbird seat here,” commissioner Nancy Detert said. “We’re not the ones under the gun.”

But she added, “I, for one, am willing to move forward, knowing this is not the final document.”

No objections were raised at Tuesday’s meeting, which was streamed on the county’s website, about the level of public money in the project.

As previously reported, the deal calls for about $21.3 million of the cost of the facility to be covered by bonds to be repaid from Sarasota County hotel taxes and $13.1 million by bonds to be repaid with interest from the state of Florida’s spring-training retention fund.

The remaining $41 million in bonds, plus interest, would be repaid from contributions over 30 years from North Port ($300,000 per year), the developer ($300,000 per year) and the Braves ($2 million to $2.5 million per year, the exact amount depending on the annual debt service).

In addition, Sarasota County and the Braves are to share capital maintenance costs, with each contributing a total of $5.6 million over three decades.

The Braves would be responsible for the costs, estimated at $7.5 million, of furniture, fixtures and equipment not included in the $75.4 million budget, such as the main video board.

Preliminary plans for the complex include a stadium with 6,500 fixed seats and 1,500 berm seats. Six full practice fields and two half fields also are planned.