LEADOFF: Final vote today on Braves spring training facility; cost tops $100M

A preliminary rendering of a new Braves spring-training complex in North Port, Fla., which is in Sarasota County.
A preliminary rendering of a new Braves spring-training complex in North Port, Fla., which is in Sarasota County.

Good morning. This is LEADOFF, the early buzz in Atlanta sports.

The cost has risen for the Braves' planned new spring-training facility, which will be a done deal if city commissioners in North Port, Fla., vote to approve the final development agreement today.

The project now carries a price tag of $100.56 million, according to the latest financing documents provided to North Port commissioners, up from the previous estimate of $75 million to $80 million.

If the deal receives a favorable vote today, a ground-breaking ceremony is expected to be held next month in North Port, which is located in Sarasota County in southwest Florida.

The increased cost won’t change the amount of taxpayer money in the deal: about $40.4 million toward construction, plus interest. Sarasota County would cover $21.3 million of the construction cost, the state of Florida $14.4 million and North Port $4.7 million. (The state’s commitment is $20 million over 20 years, but that includes interest payments.)

The project’s private developer would contribute $4.7 million.

The Braves would be on the hook for the remaining $55.5 million through a combination of up-front payments (about $18 million for architectural, engineering and construction fees and costs) and annual payments over 30 years (sufficient to cover debt service on $37.5 million in bonds), according to the North Port documents.

The Braves would expect to offset some of their costs by selling naming rights.

The total budget of $100.56 million includes $89.2 million for construction, $3.86 million for a debt-service reserve fund, $1.58 million for debt issuance expenses and $5.91 million for “other project expenses.”

The complex is to be built in the West Villages development in North Port.

The Braves hope to hold spring training there beginning in 2019 after one more spring at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando, where the team has trained since 1998.

Plans call for a North Port stadium with a capacity of about 8,000, including 6,200 in fixed seats, 800 in general-admission areas and 1,000 in berm seating. Outfield dimensions, outfield wall heights and foul territory are to mirror those at SunTrust Park.

The complex also is to include six full practice fields, two half fields and about 55,000 square feet of clubhouse and office space.

The Braves have sought a new spring-training deal with taxpayer funding for about three years to get closer to other teams' facilities and reduce bus time to Grapefruit League road games.

Team officials had discussions with Pinellas County (St. Petersburg), Collier County (Naples) and Palm Beach County, but none of those talks gained much momentum.

MLB nixed the St. Petersburg possibility by saying the area should focus instead on a new regular-season stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. Collier County commissioners voted unanimously late last year to discontinue talks with the Braves, saying tax dollars should be used instead for beach restoration and roads. Palm Beach County had no apparent funding source after building a stadium that opened this year for the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros.

The Braves said in January they would focus their efforts exclusively on the Sarasota County/North Port site.

Please check back later today for updates on this story.


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