Baseball

Sarasota County to negotiate with Atlanta Braves to move spring training to North Port

A rendering of what a spring training facility for the Atlanta Braves in south Sarasota County might look like. Provided illustration.
A rendering of what a spring training facility for the Atlanta Braves in south Sarasota County might look like. Provided illustration.

SARASOTA -- The Sarasota County Commission authorized County Administrator Tom Harmer on Tuesday to continue negotiating terms with the developers of the West Villages and the Atlanta Braves concerning the funding, design and construction of a new Major League Baseball spring training facility in the master-planned community near North Port.

According to a release issued by the county, the proposed campus would feature new training facilities, practice fields and a 7,500-seat stadium on a 100- to 150-acre tract along U.S. Highway 41 that connects South Venice and North Port.

The property is in the new commercial core of the West Villages subdivision. It is adjacent to the State College of Florida-Venice campus and a future Sarasota Memorial

Hospital 28-acre medical and wellness complex.

If the Braves move to Sarasota County, the team would be the second to establish spring training facilities there.

The Baltimore Orioles are six years into a 30-year-arrangement to play their spring training games at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. The Venice site is also slightly less than 13 miles from the Tampa Bay Rays spring training complex in Port Charlotte.

In a statement, Braves President John Schuerholz said his organization is "excited and appreciative that West Villages and Sarasota County are working with us to potentially secure a beautiful, state-of-the-art, future spring training location for the Braves."

The Braves currently hold their spring training and play their games at Champions Stadium. The stadium, which opened in 1997, possesses more than 9,500 seats plus grassy seating areas.

It features four skyboxes plus multiple open-air suites. The facility is located on the grounds of the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Time is growing short for the franchise to make a decision. The Braves' 20-year contract with their present home expires in 2017.

However, the Sarasota County site is not the team's only option. The Palm Beach Post has reported a site in Palm Beach County is under consideration, and early last month the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported talks regarding a site in Piniellas County were ongoing.

Jeff Maultsby, the Sarasota County's director of business and economic development, said bringing a second major league team to the county would boost its sports tourism profile.

The area around the proposed Braves' campus features four West Villages neighborhoods that sell more than 700 new homes annually. According to Sarasota County, these sales account for more than 40 percent of new home sales in the county.

Since the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, they have held spring training in Florida: West Palm Beach (1963-1997) and Orlando (1998-present).

The franchise has ties to the Gulf Coast of Florida, however. While located in Boston, the Braves trained in St. Petersburg (1922-1937) and Bradenton (1938-1940, 1948-1962).

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