Candidates in Lee County weigh in on efforts to lure Nats to Fort Myers

Election day in southwest Florida could have an impact on the Nationals’ efforts to relocate their spring training facility from Space Coast Stadium in Viera to vacant City of Palms Park in Fort Myers.

Officials from Lee County have been engaged in discussions with the Nationals since March, but this story in the Naples Daily News sheds some light as to why there is so little public discussion about the talks - and casts some doubts as to whether they will bear any fruit.

“I can tell you that we have been talking to the Nationals and they have actually sent us a very brief outline proposal, but we have a confidentially agreement to adhere to, so we are still talking but we’re not getting any closer,” incumbent District 1 commissioner John Manning told the newspaper.

In its story, the Daily News quizzed Lee County Commission candidates about their views on Fort Myers attempting to lure the Nationals to City of Palms Park, which had been the spring home of the Boston Red Sox until they moved into newly built JetBlue Park in March.

(Manning has previously opined that it didn’t make fiscal sense for the county to reach out to the Nationals; in the Daily News’ candidate query, he responded, “I’d love another baseball team.”)

The Nationals want substantial improvements made to City of Palms Park, which costs Lee County about $1 million a year to maintain. The team is asking for clubhouse renovations and the construction of additional practice fields. Lee County Commissioners will vote tomorrow - two weeks before newly elected commissioners are sworn in - on $91 million of improvements to Hammond Stadium, spring home of the Twins, and some wonder whether there will be enough money left to help attract the Nationals.

The Nats have a contract with Brevard County for Space Coast Stadium through 2017, but their financial penalties for breaking the lease drop significantly after spring training in 2013.

Five of the eight candidates who responded to the newspaper expressed support for the Nationals to move to Fort Myers, though they had differing opinions on how to make that happen. One candidate suggested that there was nothing wrong with City of Palms Park in its present state, another said he believed the Twins and Red Sox should help kick in to bring the Nationals to Fort Myers and another pledged that he would mandate that all negotiations be held in the open as opposed to under the existing confidentiality agreement.

As of Monday afternoon, a poll on the Daily News Web site asking whether Lee County should work to bring the Nationals to City of Palms Park showed 62 percent in favor, 34 percent against and 3 percent undecided.

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