County supports spending up to $135M to build new baseball stadium
By Andy Reid Sun Sentinel
The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are angling to get a spring training stadium in Palm Beach County.
If you pay for it, they will come.
Palm Beach County is trying to reach a deal to build a new baseball stadium that could be the spring training home for the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros. (South Florida Sun Sentinel) Even before deciding where to build a new baseball stadium, Palm Beach County commissioners Tuesday endorsed spending up to $135 million on creating a local field of dreams intended to attract two more spring training teams. The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals have proposed moving to Palm Beach County for spring training if the county will build a new baseball stadium and training facility that they could share.
Where to build the stadium remains unresolved, and how to pay for it still poses a hurdle to finalizing the deal. But even with those uncertainties, the County Commission in a 5-2 vote Tuesday agreed to spend money on the new stadium and gave the teams the go-ahead to try to find a site to build. "Let's do it already," Commissioner Shelley Vana said. "Let's play ball." After striking out on proposed stadium locations in Palm Beach Gardens and West Palm Beach, the teams plan to take up to 90 days to try to find a new site within the county to build a new stadium. Final approval for the county financing deal could come after finding a place to build. "We have a good starting point," said Giles Kibbe, who represents the Houston Astros. "We are going to work hard over the next couple weeks [to] try to find the best place." Commissioners Steven Abrams and Jess Santamaria cast the only votes against proceeding with the stadium deal. The location affects the price and should be resolved before OK'ing the spending total, Abrams said.
"The site is integral," Abrams said. Palm Beach County already has the publicly funded Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, which is the spring training home for the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins. The new $135 million proposal to build another stadium calls for the county to pay for about half of the costs, with the Astros, Nationals and the state paying for the rest. The latest version of the deal trims $5 million from construction costs in a prior proposal. But the deal would also leave the county responsible for about $17 million more in public money than once envisioned. The county plans to pay for the new stadium with money from taxes on local hotel stays. The county already relies on that money to help pay for Roger Dean Stadium and the county convention center, as well as local arts programs, replacing sand on eroded beaches and advertising the county to travelers.
Arts groups, hotel operators and other tourism industry officials have raised concerns about using more tourist tax money on building another stadium. "We have serious concerns about the funding," said David Semadeni of the Palm Beach County Hotel and Lodging Association. Commissioners Tuesday decided not to tie their support for building a stadium to another proposal to increase the tax on hotel stays. The tax proposal calls for increasing the tax of 5 cents for every dollar spent per overnight stay to 6 cents. It has been suggested to raise more money for advertising county destinations to travelers and to help pay for replenishing more eroded beaches. It could go before the commission in November. "We don't know that we need it yet," Vana said about a potential hotel tax increase. Stadium supporters say that bringing more spring training baseball to Palm Beach County will attract more tourists and help pump money into local businesses. They say that having two more teams will also make it easier for the county to keep the Marlins and Cardinals from leaving for other spring training destinations that can offer more teams to play. The Astros and Nationals had proposed building the stadium on 160 acres south of 45th Street between Military Trail and Haverhill Road, owned by the city of West Palm Beach.
But the city wants to be paid for the land, and so far the teams and the county haven't been willing to pay. Last week, the City Commission decided to pursue a competing development deal for the proposed stadium site, while still agreeing to accept potential offers from the teams or other potential buyers. The teams have balked at building the stadium at the county's John Prince Park in Lake Worth, saying there would not be enough room without displacing too many park attractions. The teams have told the county they are looking for more than 100 acres not far from Palm Beach International Airport. Other potential stadium sites that had been previously considered and are potentially back in the running include:
•property west of Boca Raton near Glades Road and State Road 7;
•land at the South Florida Fairgrounds on State Road 80, west of West Palm Beach; and
•the Highland Dunes property, next to the Palm Beach Aggregates mining company also on S.R. 80. County officials had intended to negotiate extending the leases of the Marlins and Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium in conjunction with pursuing a deal for a new stadium for the Astros and the Nationals. Instead, the Marlins and Cardinals told the county that they plan to stick with their current lease agreements that extend through 2027.
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