The Washington Nationals have not made it a secret they would like to leave Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL, and move into a new, state-of-the-art training complex more centrally located toward central Florida to increase the number of teams they can play during spring training. Their lease runs through 2017, but can opt out at any time because they have paid Brevard Co. back for $7 million in construction bonds
Reading through the tea leaves of municipal governments in Florida, the Nats’ dreams may have a hard time becoming reality.
From all indications, the Nats would like to have Osceola County build them a two-team training complex. Reports Florida Today.com (July 10):
Preliminary plans presented by Osceola County officials to tourism leaders show a 9,000-seat stadium; 10 practice fields for major league, minor league and amateur baseball use; and up to two 200-room hotels on county-owned land about 1.5 miles east of downtown Kissimmee.
According to MyFoxOrlando.com, Osceola County’s tourism board, for their part, okayed a $98 million proposal Wednesday to build a dual-team, 120 acre spring training facility, but it still faces stiff inspection at the County Commission.
Tourism board member George Chen says he likes the baseball project, but not if the county commission continues a history of what he called irresponsible spending of tourism tax dollars.
“Without a guarantee from our board of county commissioners that they will be spending tourist development taxes in a responsible way, it makes this project very, very risky,” Chen said.
One of the big obstacles for Osceola County would be attracting another team to share the facility — and the building costs. The Houston Astros have trained at Osceola County Stadium, an attractive — but outdated — facility near the airport. The other team whose lease runs out in the near future is the Toronto Blue Jays, who currently train in Dunedin, FL, on the gulf coast.
The Astros, however, are heading an effort to work with Palm Beach Gardens to build a new two-team complex there, 141 miles south of where they currently play. The team currently tagged to share the facility? The Toronto Blue Jays. According to the Houston Chronicle’s Astros blog, Ultimate Astros (July 11), the Astros are “…close to finalizing a deal to move their spring training home from Kissimmee, Fla., to Palm Beach Gardens,” and that the Blue Jays are the other team attached to the project.
Barring an unforeseen setback, the Astros and Toronto Blue Jays will share a facility in Palm Beach Gardens in the same manner the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals share a facility in Jupiter, Fla.
Who does that leave as a dance partner for the Nats? In reality, no one.
There are 15 teams that train in Florida and all but the Nationals, Astros and Blue Jays are locked into long-term agreements with their current training facilities, including four teams (Orioles, Twins, Red Sox and Rays) that have moved within the past five years. There had been an exodus from teams training on the Atlantic Coast, with the Dodgers leaving long-time spring training home Vero Beach for Arizona, and the Orioles moving from Ft. Lauderdale across the state to Sarasota.
If the Astros/Blue Jays complex in Palm Beach Gardens comes to fruition, that will bring two more teams to the Atlantic Coast, perhaps forcing the Nats to consider staying in Viera. They might not have much of a choice.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that Monday, Osceola County commissioners denied a request from the county manager to start negotiations with a developer/designer for the project in that county, citing that until one team commits to the project, nothing will move forward.
“Until that first team makes a commitment, no one else is making any moves,” Don Miers, the county’s sports facilities manager, said of expected team relocations.
As we mentioned, the only teams that could be connected to the project are the Nats, Astros and Jays.
WOGX.com (Fox 51 in Orlando) described the municipal’s participation in even more dire terms (July 11), reporting:
On Tuesday, top brass from Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals presented their proposal for a brand new dual stadium to each of Osceola County’s five commissioners. The Nationals recently told officials in Brevard County, where they currently play in Viera, the team does not intend to renew it’s lease at Space Coast Stadium.
But quoted Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. saying, “I’m anxious to see the tourist community’s reaction to this proposal first,” Hawkins said. “If they are not positive, it would be a hard sell.”
Hawkins also stated his concern for the proposal missing plans for hotels on the complex.
Also concerning to the commissioner was the absence of plans for a private developer to build a hotel on the stadium’s property. As it stands, the team would have to drive 45 minutes to the nearest hotel.
“There wasn’t a real commitment to build a hotel,” said Hawkins Jr.
It’s apparent that despite the Nationals desire to move out of Space Coast Stadium and into a new, state-of-the-art two-team complex, there remains multiple hurdles to clear before they can pack the moving trucks. It looks more and more likely that though they wish for greener pastures, they may have to make do with what they have for the foreseeable future.