Some at odds with Braves training facility funding plan

- A new spring training facility for the Atlanta Braves sounds exciting to some. For others, the money behind the project isn't adding up.

Sarasota County commissioners are in an exclusive negotiating period with the Braves, approved a letter of intent Tuesday, and are breaking down the cost of a new spring training facility. They said funding for the $80 million complex will come from multiple sources.

"We are very excited about this opportunity. As a kid growing up in this community we had a major attraction and it was Ringling Bros....I think this is something that would go very well," said John Ryan of the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce.

More than $20 million would come from taxes tourists pay on hotel rooms. The Braves would pitch in $2.5 million a year for 30 years. The City of North Port will also contribute $300,000 a year. The rest would be in the form of a $20 million state grant.

But those in opposition of the deal say the Braves need to foot the bill.

"We think the Braves could afford this sort of thing themselves," said James Ray.

While commissioners approved the letter of intent Tuesday, there are still many steps they must go through before the Atlanta Braves can call North Port their new spring training home. One of the most important steps is securing funding through the state.

"No ad valorem tax dollars will be used for this project. The county will be using tourist development tax dollars to fund its share from the funding stack," said Jeff Maultsby the Director of Business and Economic Development for Sarasota County. "In all actuality, if we do not get that $20 million from the state, the project will not advance."

That would be fine with Sarasota resident Jim Lampl, who thinks local tourism tax dollars could be used for other improvements in the area.

"If it doesn't work for the public, it doesn't pay off," he said. "Money is fungible and on the tourist development tax there is wide latitude for using it on a spectrum of things." 

But county commissioners are ready to move forward. They said welcoming the Braves to North Port is an opportunity the area can't afford to pass up.

"We feel the economic impact will be tremendous," said Maultsby. 

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