Sarasota is the fifth Florida county the Atlanta Braves have negotiated with in the last two years for a new spring training site, including Pasco and Pinellas.
And if all goes as planned, a 75-acre cow pasture in North Port’s West Villages will be the next spring training complex for the team by 2019.
“The good thing, it will bring some work,” said Russ Epeards from North Port. "But traffic is going to be terrible.”
“The more sports actually here the better,” said another North Port resident.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us,” said Jeff Maultsby, Director of Business and Economic Development for Sarasota County.
But is it a tremendous opportunity for taxpayers? The mega complex will cost around $80 million to build.
Maultsby says the cost will be split five ways between West Villages (donating the land worth $7-9 million), the city of North Port (projected to contribute $4-5 million), the Braves and the state (through grants, amount unknown). Sarasota will use about $22 million in tourism revenue.
“Tourism development tax dollars that the county has pledged," Maultsby explained. "No local ad valorem tax included or anything. Visitors coming here to stay in our hotels will foot the bill for the county’s portion of this facility,” said Maultsby.
Taxpayers will not be paying?
“They will not be paying for it,” assured Maultsby.
Others aren't so sure.
“This is your money, it’s bed tax money, it’s public money and it should be put to the highest best use ... this definitely is not it,” said Cathy Antunes with Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government.
Atunes disputes the county’s accounting that the Baltimore Orioles, for example, bring in $45 million during spring training season.
“What spring training does, it’s not attracting more entertainment spending," Atunes said. "It’s syphoning entertainment spending away from local venues into the pockets of out-of-state owners.”
Will Sarasota better protect taxpayers’ money this time? Take the Oriole’s deal. The team promised to build the Cal Ripken Jr. Youth Baseball Stadium if Sarasota spent $31 million on renovating Ed Smith Stadium. Sarasota did, but the academy never happened. The county didn’t get it in writing.
What lessons were learned from those negotiations?
Maulsby: “We will not be making promises going forward we cannot pay for, or not be in discussion. There will be no promises made that will not be kept.”
Braves officials will be in Sarasota on Tuesday to speak to county commissioners and North Port city leaders. We’ll learn more details then on the team’s economic impact and plans.
10Investigates has recently reported on the local economic impact claims by major league baseball teams, finding that the riches often projected seldom materialized.
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