Braves compromise on some Sarasota stadium goals

SARASOTA, Florida – County officials are unveiling the proposed framework for a deal to build the Atlanta Braves a new spring training stadium home in North Port, and many recent changes to the language in the proposal reflect warnings about tax dollars issued by 10Investigates earlier this month.  The team is planning on relocating to North Port if it can finalize a $75.4 million stadium deal, financed by three different government entities and a private developer.

Taxpayers across the country often has little insight as to the private negotiations between local governments, developers, and professional teams prior to the execution of a deal.  But 10Investigates fought to obtain draft negotiating documents under Florida’s public records laws, and published a list of some risks the Braves and a North Port developer were looking for the county to take on in the deal.

Some of those risks appear to have been eliminated by the county during recent negotiations, including language that left Sarasota County on the hook for any potential cost overruns, and an option for the Braves to buy out of their contract after only 20 years in North Port.

New language was also added that guarantees the county use of the stadium, otherwise controlled at all times by the Braves, for up to 10 non-profit events each year.

But other potential concessions to the team remain in the proposed agreement, including annual county subsidies for capital improvements to the stadium.  The county has similar language in its contract with the Baltimore Orioles, who train in Sarasota.

The letter of intent commissioners will discuss Tuesday also calls on the county to take ownership of the stadium from the developer while an MLB team (or teams) call it home, then giving it back to the developer afterward.  That means the county is essentially borrowing the property for the purpose of helping the Braves avoid the typical property taxes that most other local businesses and homeowners pay in Sarasota County.

A county spokesperson added Sarasota has ad valorem tax exemption program for qualifying businesses that is not just limited to professional sports.

The developer and Braves are also asking to be exempt from sales taxes on construction material, another concession that most local businesses and homeowners would not be afforded.

The proposal also allows the Braves to retain all revenues from the stadium, but exempts them from having to pay Sarasota County any rent for the first 30 years of their stay there, instead paying only $2.0-$2.5 million per year to the developer to help pay off the corporation’s debt service on the stadium.  One initial draft version called for annual payments between $3.75 and $4.5 million.

Sarasota County also stands to gain from a promotional partnership with the Braves, but the proposed contract only requires the Braves to “work with the county” on an annual plan.  As the county learned the hard way with its Baltimore Orioles spring stadium negotiations, if it isn’t in writing, promises don’t count.

Sarasota County commissioners will discuss the letter of intent for the $75.4 million, 6,500-seat North Port stadium - and the $21.3 million desired in county funding - Tuesday morning at their regular meeting.

A message left with the Braves had not yet been returned Monday.  10News will update this story as more information becomes available.

Find 10Investigates reporter Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Read his Sports Business Blog at Shadow of the Stadium.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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