Fort Myers reemerges as spring training option, officials to meet with Nationals

August 28, 2013

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The Nationals were dealt a blow last week when Osceola County rejected a bid to build a new $98-million spring training complex, with mostly public money, in Kissimmee. But on Tuesday, a separate project reemerged as a potential spring training option for the Nationals.

Lee County and Fort Myers officials will accompany a developer to Washington to meet with Nationals officials on Sept. 9 to discuss creative ways to fund improvements to City of Palms Park, the former spring training home of the Boston Red Sox that was vacated in 2011. Negotiations last fall and winter between the two sides stalled when county officials conceded their strapped finances — with a lot of money already committed to facilities for the Red Sox and Minnesota Twins — would hamper the deal. The Nationals’ plans called for $36.6 million in upgrades to City of Palms Park, a 7,800-seat stadium in Fort Myers built in 1992.

But now, with a private developer in the fold, Fort Myers has resurfaced. County and city officials have been in talks with Rockford Construction, a developer that has been interested in a building a mixed use project that would feature City of Palms Park as a centerpiece, according to the Fort Myers News-Press. In exchange for providing the funding for stadium renovations, public officials have considered perhaps giving Rockford the land around the stadium or a portion of property taxes.

The Nationals, whose desire to move their spring training home out of Viera is well known, have asked Brevard County to break their lease for Space Coast Stadium after the 2014 season, three years before the agreement expires in 2017. Brevard County officials have tried convincing the Nationals to stay, including offering $29 million in upgrades to Space Coast Stadium last week — a deal that calls for a new 20-year lease, according to a Florida Today report.

The Nationals have known only Space Coast Stadium as their spring training headquarters, but they have wanted to move out of that relatively remote location for years. The shortest bus trips the Nationals take during Grapefruit League play — to Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista where the Atlanta Braves — require at least an hour and 15 minutes each way. No other team is so distant from its nearest opponent.

The Kissimmee site might move the Nationals close to the Braves and Tigers in Lakeland, but moving to Fort Myers on the west coast of Florida would be put them closer to more teams. The Red Sox and Twins would be nearby, with the Tampa Bay Rays’ and Pittsburgh Pirates’ complexes less than an hour away.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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Adam Kilgore · August 28, 2013

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