While the Atlanta Braves haven’t signaled exactly where they want to move spring training operations, developers for the West Villages in South Sarasota County are planning right now for a baseball stadium on site, and the Major League Baseball club has hired local consultants to help refine the scope and cost of moving the operation here. “It is not a little bit of money they are investing to fine tune this here,” said West Villages General Manager Martin Black.
The Braves right now hold spring training at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World, but as more teams migrate further south, it seems increasingly clear that the team will leave Lake Buena Vista after the 2018 season. The team has shopped around a number of Florida communities seeking a new home, but according to Black, Sarasota and West Palm Beach are the only teams in the running. Black stressed that while Spring of 2019 seems a distant time, there is some pressure for the team to reach a deal because a new stadium, as is being considered in South Sarasota County, would take at least 18 months to permit and build.
Atlanta Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz sent a letter to Sarasota County Administrator Tom Harmer asking the county to continue discussions. “We have retained design and construction consultants to assist us and the local landowner team in further refining the scope and cost of a potential spring training facility,” Schuerholz writes.
West Villages wants to donate 100 to 150 acres of land adjacent to State College of Florida’s Venice campus and envisions a 7,500-seat stadium, practice fields and training facilities there. The community right now is pursuing a comprehensive plan amendment with Sarasota County defining future roadways. Black said that amendment is important to show the Braves that the stadium will be on a major road, not a backroad or neighborhood street. County Commissioners have not approved any changes to the plan yet and are scheduled to vote next month on transmitting amendments to the state.
The most controversial element of any baseball deal though will be public costs. While West Villages will provide the land, the deal could rely on up to $22.1 million in revenue from the county tourist development tax. Black also hopes the state will provide about $20 million to retain the team here. With the stadium adjacent to a college campus, Black also said local officials have made clear in negotiations that there should be other community uses through the year besides Braves functions. “It should not just be a facility you mothball, and it should get used year-round,” he said. But Black also noted the Braves expect to hold activities at any facility during other parts of the year than spring training season.