Developer pulls out of plan to rehab Fort Myers stadium for Nats spring training

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Nationals’ plan to move their spring training base to Fort Myers is in jeopardy.

This time, the Nats’ hopes of becoming the third major league club to train in Fort Myers were dealt a blow because the developer the team and the city hoped would foot the bill for renovations at City of Palms Park has pulled out of the project, deeming it too costly.

According to this article in Florida Today, Fort Meyers Mayor Randy Henderson is no longer optimistic that the Nationals will move their Grapefruit League operations from Viera to his city.

That means the Nationals will likely train at Space Coast Stadium in Viera at least through the spring of 2015, while continuing to seek a new, permanent home. Meanwhile, Brevard County officials will continue to seek money to make improvements in hopes of keeping the Nats in Viera.

Lee County and Fort Myers officials thought they had worked out a deal with Rockford Development to rehabilitate City of Palms Park and the area around it in exchange for the land and a portion of the property taxes. However, last week, Rockford and the city couldn’t agree on how much Fort Myers would pay toward the renovation costs deemed necessary by the developer.

Because Rockland thought it would be too costly to refurbish the stadium, it decided to pull out of the project. Fort Myers, meanwhile, will start looking at other possible uses for City of Palms Park.

The Nationals had proposed more than $36 million in renovations to City of Palms Park, which has been vacant since its former tenant, the Red Sox, moved to JetBlue Park two springs ago. Lee County took ownership of the stadium in 2003.

Fort Myers was attractive to Washington because two other teams - the Red Sox and Twins - already train there. Also, the Rays and Orioles are within a short drive. From their current base in Viera, the closest opponent is about an hour away and most opponents require 90 minutes or more of travel.

The Nationals thought they had a deal in place for a state-of-the-art facility in Kissimmee, Fla. - either by themselves or in partnership with another team - until Osceola County officials voted down the plan following months of discussion and public input.

The Astros, who were first thought to be the other team, were rumored to be moving to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., but that proposed two-team facility was voted down, keeping the Astros in Kissimmee and the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla.

Brevard County has been working on plans to make Space Coast Stadium more attractive to other major league clubs, going as far as extending an invitation to the 29 other teams to consider a move there, but has yet to find a suitor. County officials want to put $29 million toward upgrades at Space Coast Stadium through a combination of tourism development tax money and matching state funds, providing the Nationals sign a new 20-year lease.

The Nationals have yet to respond to the county’s offer, which came in August.

The current economic climate in Florida will make it difficult for the Nationals to get a new facility built with public funds, but to this point, team ownership has been unwilling to commit its own funds toward a new spring training home.

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