NORTH PORT (FOX 13) - Sarasota County officials say they're in exclusive negotiations aimed at bringing the Atlanta Braves to North Port for spring training starting in 2019.
The Braves would play in a proposed 6,500-seat stadium funded by the developer, West Villages, the Braves, and $21 million of tourist tax money from Sarasota County.
"This will be the only spring training facility in the country where the private sector and the team will contribute more than the public sector is being asked to do," says Marty Black, general manager of West Village and former city manager of nearby Venice.
West Village will donate the 70 to 80 acres needed for the stadium and surrounding practice fields.
The Braves have trained at Disney's Wide World of Sports since 1997, but the dwindling number of major league teams training in Central Florida has left the Braves isolated. It's at least a two-hour bus ride to most of the other Florida spring training parks. Black says North Port is the perfect location.
"We're in the center of all the teams on the West Coast of Florida. There will now be 10 teams up and down the coast within an hour of each other."
County officials say with the Tampa Bay Rays training just to the south in Charlotte County and the Baltimore Orioles training in Sarasota, the addition of the Braves will boost sports tourism in the region and the economy in North Port.
"There's long been a desire to have something to drive the economy down there and we see this as a catalyst to do just that," said Jeff Maultsby, Sarasota County's director of business and economic development.
Officials say they're close to a final agreement, but negotiations are continuing. The Braves were also talking with officials in Palm Beach County, but those talks ended and the team decided on North Port.
Braves executives are expected to visit Sarasota County commissioners next Tuesday.