Update, 2:55 p.m.: The Nationals’ plans to flee their spring training home in Viera for Florida’s west coast are gaining traction, with a move to Fort Myers growing more likely.
At a Board of Commissioners meeting this morning, Lee County unanimously approved the commencement of negotiations with the Nationals.
The Minnesota Twins are already at Hammond Stadium in the Lee County Sports Complex, and county officials were cautious in Tuesday's meeting in ensuring that they wouldn't alienate them as they discuss upgrades to their current facility while beginning negotiations with the Nationals. County officials said the Nationals are interested in modern upgrades of the facility. One county commissioner stressed that the county didn't have much money to work with.
According to a county document, Nationals ownership, staff and “design professionals” met with the county in October and December 2011 and February 2012 about the City of Palms Park complex.
Original post: The Nationals have been open about their intention to leave Viera because of the exhaustive travel the location requires. The shortest bus trips the Nationals take during Grapefruit League, to Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista, last at least an hour and 15 minutes. No other team is so far-flung.
In 2010, Nationals officials, including Principal Owner Mark Lerner and then-President Stan Kasten, toured City of Palms Park. Last year, Lerner called the situation in Viera untenable, praising the town for its hospitality but saying the Nationals could no longer put up with the long trips Viera requires.
“We do have a problem here,” Lerner said then. “Viera has been wonderful as a town. Viera government has been wonderful. Our problem is basically logistics. Our closest game is 120-mile round trip. We cannot do that. It’s tiring. It messes up our practice schedule. It’s not good for the organization. We have no choice but to look at what our options are.”
The Nationals will remain in Viera through at least 2013, Lerner said last year. Should the Nationals move to Fort Myers, they would likely wish to renovate City of Palms Park. They would also have to explore changes to the site’s inconvenient minor league complex, which sits several miles from the stadium.
The Fort Myers location would greatly decrease the Nationals’ travel. The Twins and Red Sox also train in Fort Myers, and the Rays and Pirates complexes are less than an hour away.
The Nationals have a lease with Brevard County, which owns Space Coast Stadium, through 2017. But the Nationals are obligated to pay $765,000 per year in bond payments only through March 2013.
The Nationals have used Viera and Space Coast Stadium as the team’s spring training base since baseball returned to Washington in 2005.
Staff writer James Wagner contributed to this report.