But Monday morning, Scott made the change officially official with a bill signing ceremony held with Nationals and Astros representatives on hand, an acknowledgement of the return of spring training baseball to West Palm Beach for the first time since the Braves and Expos left decades ago. That the Astros and Nationals will move to Palm Beach County — if all stays on schedule — means there will be five teams within a 30-minute drive of one another on the East coast of Florida, a good sign for the health of the Grapefruit League, which requires more travel than the Cactus League in Arizona. From Space Coast Stadium in Viera, where the Nationals train now, their nearest opponent is about 45 minutes away.
“Spring training and Major League Baseball are a major reason why Florida continues to welcome record numbers of tourists. Last year almost 99 million people visited Florida — and we’re on pace for even more visitors this year,” Scott said in a statement. “With the Nationals and Astros announcing their spring training operations remaining in Florida for the next thirty years, and the news that our state will host our first ever MLB All Star Game in 2017, it’s clear that Florida is the number one state for baseball in the country.”
Art Fucillo, who has been coordinating much of this process for the Nationals, was on hand at the signing along with Astros owner Jim Crane and Houston lawyer Giles Kibbe. At the ceremony, Scott joked about both teams making the World Series this year.
The bill he signed … again … changes a Florida law about the amount of space required as a buffer zone around canals that feed the water supply. The easement in question was incorporated into early plans for the spring training site as grass fields that could be used for parking when necessary. The bill passed both chambers of the Florida legislature in May, and Scott signed it into law in early June.
The teams have chosen a contractor for the project and have submitted plans to the county planning board for approval. There are several steps remaining in the process before construction can begin, but as of now, the teams expect to begin construction by this fall. That would put them on track to use the facility beginning in 2016.
“We want to thank everyone who has worked so hard, and are excited about The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches soon becoming a reality,” Mark D. Lerner, Vice Chairman and Principal Owner of the Washington Nationals said in a statement. “We sincerely thank elected leaders from the city, county and state for all that they have done.”