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Naples Daily News (Florida)
The Atlanta Braves have found a new spring training home in Sarasota County.
The team and county announced plans to build a $75 million to $80 million complex in North Port that includes a 6,500-seat stadium, six multi-use fields and space for the team's sports medicine academy, the Sarasota Herald Tribune has reported.
The Braves had originally hoped to work with Collier County to build a stadium here. The team asked county commissioners last month to build a $101 million complex near Interstate 75 and Collier Boulevard.
Collier commissioners unanimously rejected the proposal in December and ended talks with the baseball club.
To pay for the stadium, the county would have had to borrow upward of $100 million and raise its tourist tax, from 4 to 5 percent, to help pay down that debt.
Even with little interest among current commissioners, and the Braves moving on, lawyer Gary Price said he is still hopeful Collier County will find room someday to land a Major League team for spring training.
Price is a partner in Naples-based Fifth Avenue Advisors, which broached the idea of bringing the Braves to Collier County and then handed negotiations over to county staff.
"This has always been bigger than baseball," Price said. "If we want to build these parks and have these facilities that we want to build, then we need to find a way to pay for it that doesn't just fall on the backs of property tax payers. With baseball you get resources from the team and the state to help pay for this."
Most baseball and softball diamonds and football and soccer fields at county parks are at capacity. County staff members and commissioners have said they need to find room for more sports fields to keep up with demand.
The county has also been investing more and more in its sports tourism department after some recent success in landing amateur tournaments like the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships and Pro Watercross World Championship.
But professional sports are a different matter, said Commissioner Penny Taylor, who opposed the Braves' proposal.
"I wish the Braves all the best, but this was never about the Braves," Taylor said. "This is about the concept of spending tax dollars on a professional baseball team and the business plan behind it."
With the Braves finding a new spring training home, Taylor said she doesn't expect an MLB team to ever make its way to Collier County.
"This is probably the last of it, but you never know," Taylor said. "It seems to me that land is becoming less and less available and we're getting more residents. All these outlying properties we have now are becoming closer to residential areas, so the compatibility factor is only getting more important."
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