Since 1997, the Braves have conducted spring training at the Wide World of Sports area of Disney World near Orlando. As they’ve been nearing the end of their lease there, it’s been no secret that they’ve been checking out the possibility of building a new complex elsewhere in Florida.
Looks like they’ve found the spot.
Tuesday morning, Braves executives met with local leaders in Sarasota County to publicly discuss their desire to construct a new complex on undeveloped land near the community of North Port. The 70-acre site lies just south of the North Port campus of the State College of Florida, placing it a 12-mile drive from the spring-training complex of the Rays in Port Charlotte and under an hour to play the Orioles in Sarasota and the Pirates in Bradenton. The Red Sox and Twins, both in Fort Myers, would also be close.
“We’ve liked it at Disney,” Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz told me recently, “but we don’t have the teams around to play. They’ve all moved out.” Indeed, with the Nationals vacating Viera and the Astros departing Kissimmee (both bound for a new complex in West Palm Beach), the Braves are down to one team (the Tigers in Lakeland) within a two-hour drive. “It’s just too much time on the bus and not enough on the practice fields,” Schuerholz observed.
The firms Fawley Bryant, based in Sarasota, and Pendulum of Kansas City worked with the Braves in locating a new spring-training home. Both firms have extensive experience in planning and designing pro-baseball facilities.
As the image above attests, the complex envisioned by the Braves would include six full-size practice fields, three half fields (infields only), extensive clubhouse and training facilities, an academy for young players and a 6,500-seat stadium for exhibition games. The total cost is projected to be $75-80 million, with about $20 million coming from the State of Florida, $22 million from local tourism development taxes and $4-5 million from North Port. The remainder would come from the Braves and from firms involved in the commercial developments that are planned nearby.
If all of the financing and details can be worked out, the Braves indicated they would like to move into the new complex in 2019, which would mean next year would be their last spring at Disney World.
(Site plan image courtesy of Sarasota County)