Braves Delay Spring Training Move to Sarasota County
The team will stay in Orlando to ensure there is enough time to finish the North Port facility.
ATLANTA - The Atlanta Braves announced Wednesday that they will extend their spring training agreement with ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World Resort through April 2019 to ensure there is enough time to complete their new $100 million facility in West Villages in the city of North Port. The Braves said they will play their final 2019 spring training home game in the new ballpark.
The complex will officially open in April 2019, the team said in a news release, with the team’s Florida operations moving in at that time.
“We are thankful for our good friends at Walt Disney World Resort and are excited for this extension,” said John Schuerholz, Atlanta Braves Vice Chairman Emeritus. “We also appreciate the foresight and thoughtfulness of our partners in North Port, Sarasota County and West Villages in recognizing such an extension will be of benefit as we continue to make progress on our new facility. When complete, our new, state-of-the-art facility will secure our long-term goal of creating a perfectly positioned and operational spring training facility for the next 30 years.”
The announcement appeared to be an acknowledgement that the construction schedule envisioned when ground was broken on the new stadium last October was overly ambitious. At the time, local officials and the team indicated that construction would be completed in time to hold the slate of 2019 games in North Port.
Negotiating the deal to bring the Braves to Sarasota County involved complicated talks over more than two years involving the team, North Port and the county and the West Villages developer, as well as an application to the state for a grant to help build the stadium. By the time all the deal was sealed and a contractor was in place, barely 16 months were left to open in time for the 2019 spring training season.
Still, officials said last fall in celebrating the groundbreaking that they were on track. They said it was possible the stadium could be finished by then while the remainder of training facilities were still being finished.
“We know it can be done and we’re going to be side by side with them to see to it that by 2019 we’re playing spring training baseball here in beautiful North Port,” Schuerholz said in October. “Let’s get the bulldozers going,” he joked.
The Braves have held their spring training at Champion Stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista since 1998.
When completed, the new ballpark in North Port will feature 6,500 fixed seats and 2,500 additional general admission, including berm and concourse.
“We fully support this decision by the Atlanta Braves as the construction administrators for the project,” said Jeff Maultsby, director of Sarasota County’s Office of Business and Economic Development, the news release said. “The agreements between the project partners always envisioned and addressed the possibility that 2020 could be the Braves’ first full spring in Sarasota County, and we are excited to celebrate their arrival at the 2019 spring training finale.”
The overall facility will include six and a half practice fields, 55,000 square feet of clubhouse and fitness center for the Braves along with multi-purpose fields and public space that can be used for special events by the City and County.
The complex will operate year-round with extended spring training for minor league teams, Gulf Coast League and Fall Instructional League.