It’s been an incredible team effort to bring the Atlanta Braves new $100 million stadium and spring training facility to fruition in booming south Sarasota County, the finishing touches of which are being completed even as you read this article. Named the “Deal of the Year” by the Florida Economic Development Council, the stadium brought together the Braves, the state of Florida, Sarasota County, the city of North Port and West Villages on a project that the council estimates will create nearly 150 full-time jobs and stimulate an additional $1.7 billion annually to Florida’s economy.
A recent visit to the stadium site revealed a buzz of busy construction work on the project which began just 18 months ago, in October 2017, and eager anticipation of the first game to be played there, on Sunday, March 24, between the Braves and the Tampa Bay Rays. More than 400 workers have been laboring daily on the tightest of schedules. The state-of-the-art stadium will feature 6,500 seats, bleacher space for 2,500 more, ample parking, six adjacent practice fields, as well as a 40-by-80-foot high-definition scoreboard. Expansive clubhouses and fitness facilities will serve the Braves players and those hoping to make the cut during the busy spring training schedule.
Intended to be a year-round special events and concerts venue, this new entertainment gem of Southwest Florida saw West Villages and North Port invest nearly $5 million each, while Sarasota County provided nearly $28 million more in various taxes and expenditures. The state of Florida added $20 million as additional incentive to lure the Braves from their previous spring training home, the Wide World of Sports Complex near Disney World in Lake Buena Vista. Based at that facility for 22 years, the Braves picked up the majority of the construction costs for the new stadium and have signed a 30-year lease.
West Villages also donated infrastructure and land to the project. Located just west of the Tamiami Trail, the stadium features highly in West Villages continued growth, with a new Town Center planned at the intersection of West Villages Parkway and U.S. 41. Already, the Braves Preview Center at the nearby Cornerstone Plaza is a hive of activity. Currently the Braves’ spring training headquarters, the Preview Center is managed by Mike Dunn, the Atlanta Braves vice president of Florida Operations. According to Mike, the new stadium will be far more than just the site of the Braves’ spring training games. It will also host games played by the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, various other traveling leagues, fall instructional leagues, baseball academies for young players, along with diverse, year-round programming.
“I’ve been with the Braves for 30 years,” says Mike, who relocated to Venice permanently in September with his wife and twin 12-year-old sons. “I’m responsible for all Braves activities in the state of Florida, and this stadium is now our primary hub. Everything having to do with the Braves in Florida will start and end right here.”
Mike says the Braves organization loves the new stadium.
“This is the biggest project we have going, and it's going to be the lifeblood of our organization for the next 30 years,” he says. “Disney was a great partner, but teams are leaving Central Florida, and we needed to go to where the teams are. We have the Orioles in Sarasota, the Rays in Port Charlotte, the Red Sox and Twins in Fort Myers, the Pirates in Bradenton, the Yankees in Tampa, the Phillies in Clearwater and the Blue Jays in Dunedin. By locating and developing here, we don’t have to be on a bus all the time.”
Mike says that more than 400 players will be at the stadium complex each year for eight full weeks. The players will begin to arrive every year around Feb. 1, when they will acclimate and start workouts. Games will begin during the third week of February and play through the end of March. By April 1, the Braves will break spring training camp, with the major league players returning to Atlanta and the minor leaguers to their home cities. A wave of rookies will then arrive at the facility for extended spring training. All these players are supported by staff, and everyone will need housing.
“We will use all available hotels,” Mike says. “We will use temporary apartments and houses. We’re building an academy on site that will sleep more than 120 rookies. We have to be creative in housing.”
The stadium complex will also be turnkey once fully completed, according to Mike. Players and staff will be served three meals a day there. There will be team cafeterias and kitchens, and a year-round, full-service restaurant and bar, the Tomahawk Tiki Bar, will be open to the public every day.
“When the younger players are here, it’s a time for them to either make the team or go home,” Mike says. “But the older guys, the veteran guys will certainly be bringing their families. They will buy houses and become entrenched in this community. They know they are coming back next year.”
Over at the stadium, the grass is in and the lights are on. Tickets are already on sale, and everything is ready for the first official pitch. The games are about to begin!
14906 Tamiami Trail Suite A, North Port, 941.413.5000, MLB.com/braves