Just days after an agonizing debate over whether to advance a sales tax proposal to the voters in November, Palm Beach County commissioners are gushing about the chance to build a spring training facility for yet another major league team, the Atlanta Braves.
Hal Valeche, who met with Braves officials over breakfast on Wednesday morning, had voted against the $2.7 billion sales tax plan on Tuesday, saying it strayed too far from its original purpose of repairing roads and schools because it contained $121 million for cultural institutions and possibly another $40 million for economic development projects. And throughout the hours of discussion, he sounded every bit the tight-fisted conservative.
But after chowing down with top Braves officials, Valeche said, “I told them I would try as hard as I could to figure out a creative way to finance this.”
The dreamed-of facilities for the Braves, which the club wants to build in John Prince Park, just west of Lake Worth, could cost up to $100 million.
Commissioners Shelley Vana, Priscilla Taylor and Melissa McKinlay also sounded receptive to the idea, after meeting with the team’s President John Schuerholz and Chairman Terry McGuirk. “It’s an amazing opportunity to have a really popular team with a really great following,” Vana said.
Vana also acknowledged that the project would be “a heavy-duty lift.”
You think? County officials, working with the Palm Beach County Schools, are going to have a tough enough time this year persuading residents to boost the sales tax to 7 cents from 6 cents for 10 years. The case for the tax hike is an urgent need to keep up roads, bridges, vehicles and buildings that went to seed during the belt-tightening years of the recession. Now they’re going to argue that millionaire team owners need tourist-tax dollars, state money and possibly city contributions, too?
Less than a year ago, the commission earmarked $113 million for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. The clubs will be sharing the $144-million Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, now being built in West Palm Beach. The state also pledged $50 million for that facility. And the teams are pitching in with at least $67 million overall in annual installments over 30 years, plus cost overruns.
The county already is the spring home of the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals, which share Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. Adding a fifth club, the popular Braves, would make Palm Beach County a cynosure of preseason baseball. No doubt, thousands of fans and countless media reports would follow.
The Braves , who trained in West Palm Beach from 1962 to 1997 before moving to Orlando, are also considering a move to Sarasota. But Taylor said, “They really want to come back.”
If the Braves are so eager, the commissioners ought to drive a hard bargain. Perhaps allow the team to lease land at the park at no cost, but put the construction costs on the team, being very careful about spending the people’s money.
Too many municipalities have been burned by professional sports teams that promised big economic benefits from stadiums that never materialized. Taxpayers should be wary of playing this game.