Mark Sept. 9 on your calendars - that’s the day we’ll get an indication about how serious officials from Lee County and Fort Myers, Fla., are about courting the Nationals across the state to conduct spring training.
According to Spring Training Online, that’s the day the Nationals will meet in D.C. with representatives of Rockford Construction, a developer interested in building a mixed-use development that would have City of Palms Park as its centerpiece and also include retail and office space. It’s possible Rockford could move ahead with the proposal in exchange for tax credits and/or free land.
That would appear to solve Lee County’s problem of how to fund renovations at the now-vacant stadium, which housed the Red Sox until they left following the 2011 season for the new JetBlue Park. Lee County would like to add the Nationals as the third Grapefruit League team in Fort Myers, joining the Red Sox and Twins, but hasn’t got enough money for upgrades after committing substantial dollars to the construction of JetBlue Park and the renovation of Hammond Stadium, where the Twins play spring games and run a Single-A team in the Florida State League.
The Nationals have long expressed interest in moving their spring base closer to more teams. In Fort Myers, they’d have two other teams in the same city and be close to the Rays in Port Charlotte, the Orioles in Sarasota and the Pirates in Bradenton. Additionally, another cluster of teams is within a couple of hours in the Tampa area.
When officials in Osceola County recently voted down a proposed $98 million complex in Kissimmee that would have lured the Nationals from Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Lee County renewed talks with the Nats while Brevard County declared itself “all-in” in an attempt to retain the team in Viera.