The Nationals have known only one spring training home — Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla. — but have been exploring options to leave their somewhat isolated home on the east coast of the state, where games in the Grapefruit League require long bus rides. The Nationals, who have explored moving to Fort Myers on the west coast of Florida, could leave after this season with little penalty — but Brevard County officials are now stepping up their efforts to ensure the Nationals stay in Viera.
Brevard County Commissioners Chairman Andy Anderson is leading a campaign to convince the Nationals to stay at the Space Coast Stadium by offering potential facility upgrades and other incentives. Anderson will visit Washington on Jan. 25 to meet with Nationals front office officials.
“We’re ready to do an all-out effort,” Anderson said in a Monday telephone interview. “There is a big group of us here. This is a priority.”
Anderson said he hopes to learn more about what improvements the Nationals would be interested in. As of now, he said he understands the Nationals would like upgrades to the training facility and equipment. Anderson said he would also look into possible sponsorship for the stadium and improvements to the stadium’s concessions. And, he said he has had preliminary discussions with charter flight companies about offering flights to the Nationals instead of long bus rides.
In the eyes of the Nationals, the location is the biggest downside to Viera. The shortest bus trips the Nationals take during Grapefruit League play — to Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista — require at least an hour and 15 minutes each way. No other team is so distant. If the Nationals were at the vacant City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, for example, they would be less than an hour away from the Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays and others.
Lee County officials and the Nationals have had discussions about the City of Palms Park, left vacant by the Red Sox last season. But negotiations haven’t amounted to anything yet since Lee County officials were busy approving upgrades to the Twins facility in the county. And, more importantly, the county has significant financial constraints after committing more than $80 million in a bond issue for a new Red Sox stadium and having approved $42.5 million for the Twins improvements.
“We’re at an advantage because this stadium is paid off in March,” Anderson.
Anderson said the county’s bed tax could be used for improvements to the facility beyond the yearly maintenance. That would require, however, county commission approval. (He also said he would even be interested in attracting a potential second major league team to train in the county.)
The Nationals’ deal with Brevard County runs until 2017. If the Nationals were to break the agreement, they would be obligated to reimburse the county for remaining construction bond payments on the stadium until another team takes it over, according to the contract, along with other potential damages. Brevard County pays about $765,000 per year in bond payments, the final one coming this spring, according to county budget documents.
“We’re going to do anything to make them happy,” Anderson said.