The decision by Osceola County commissioners to reject plans for a new $98 million spring training complex for the Nationals may have opened the door for Brevard County to retain its status as the team’s Grapefruit League home.
According to this story in Florida Today, Brevard County commissioner Robin Fisher says the county will go “all in” in its attempts to keep the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium for spring training.
Fisher has proposed that the county make $29 million in improvements to Space Coast Stadium, taking advantage of state funds to foot part of the bill. He and other county officials conducted a conference call with a Nationals representative Thursday to outline their plan.
Brevard County would still need to approve Fisher’s plan, which the Nationals have yet to endorse.
Fisher’s proposal calls for the county to refinance the stadium for $13 million. It would pay that debt using $986,900 a year from a portion of the county’s 5 percent tax on hotel room rentals. In return for upgrades at Space Coast Stadium, the Nationals would sign a new 20-year lease.
Brevard County would receive $13 million in matching funds from a new Florida program designed to retain major league spring training in camps, rather than lose them to Arizona. The money would be paid in 20 annual installments, beginning the first year of the new lease agreement.
The Nationals have made clear their intentions to depart Brevard County before their lease at Space Coast Stadium runs out in 2017. They can exit the agreement early because they have repaid more than $7 million in construction bonds.
Because there are so few teams on Florida’s east coast, the Nationals want to cut travel expenses and travel time by moving into a complex - hopefully a new one, built to their specifications - nearer to more teams. Currently, the Nats’ closest opponents are the Astros, an hour away in Kissimmee, and the Mets and Braves, who are a little more than an hour’s drive in Port St. Lucie and Lake Buena Vista, respectively.
The Astros are rumored to be moving to a new complex in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., which they would share with the Blue Jays, in 2017. That arrangement would leave six teams on the east coast should the Nationals stay in Viera. The Marlins and Cardinals share a facility in Jupiter.
The Nationals have negotiated with Lee County in an attempt to take over the vacant City of Palms Park in Fort Myers and with Osceola County in hopes of having a new complex constructed. In both cases, those jurisdictions were not able or willing to make the financial commitment required by the team.
Because the Nationals will likely remain at Space Coast Stadium while they figure out a resolution, Fisher decided to make a final run at retaining the team.
“I’ve gotten tired of having an exit strategy conversation,” Fisher told Florida Today. “We’re all-in, baby. This is how we are.”
Should the Nationals accept the proposal, Fisher plans to introduce it to the Brevard County Commission on Sept. 17.