VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals’ plans to move their spring training home out of Viera, Fla. could take a big step forward soon. The Lee County Board of County Commissioners is set to meet Tuesday and part of their agenda focuses on approval to enter into negotiations with the Nationals to take over City of Palms Park in Fort Myers — the Red Sox previous home — starting in 2014.
According to the notes on the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting, approval of this request would “allow staff to determine feasibility of meeting the spring training needs of the Washington Nationals in conjunction with use of City of Palms Park and associated facilities, and to determine timing and contract issues and provide a report to the board within 90 days.”
The Nationals have long been in search of a spring home that would cut down on their strenuous travel in the Grapefruit League and have been touring spring training sites in the past few years. They’ve been in Viera since the team moved to Washington in 2005.
The notes for Tuesday night’s meeting note that the Nationals ownership, executive staff and design professionals met with Lee County staff in October 2011, December 2011 and February 2012 to “explore occupying City of Palms Park/Player Development complex, in order to conduct spring training activities and year-round training and rehabilitation for players.”
Moving to Fort Myers would significantly cut down on the Nationals’ travel time with the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins also taking up spring residence in the city. The Tampa Bay Rays train less than 45 minutes away in Port Charlotte and the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates are also not far in Sarasota and Bradenton.
Currently the Nationals do not have a spring training road trip that is less than an hour each way with most ranging anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours.
Lee County just helped the Red Sox build beautiful new Jet Blue Park in Fort Myers, leaving City of Palms uninhabited. The general feeling is that the facility would be in need of renovation and one of the biggest drawbacks to moving the Nationals there is the fact that the minor league complex is two or three miles down the road. Preferably, the major and minor league facilities would be together.
The Nationals lease with Brevard County on Space Coast Stadium runs through 2017 but the Nationals’ bond payments of less than $800,000 end after the 2013 spring, thus giving the Nationals a 2014 date for moving into a new spot.
According to Tuesday night’s agenda, given the Nationals’ visits to City of Palms Park in the past year, the county has seen this as a “serious inquiry,” and are requesting “authorization from the Board to enter into negotiations with the team.”
The proposal anticipates a period of 90 days to negotiate so that “the feasibility of developing a formal agreement should be determined.”
The Washington Post was the first to report that Lee County had put negotiating with the Nationals on its agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.