Are Astros and Nationals down to their final out?


The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros could be down to their final out in their bid to build a new baseball stadium in Palm Beach County.

For the second time in 30 days, county commissioners on Tuesday will consider the teams’ request for millions of dollars in revenue from a county tax on hotels and motels to help pay for the spring training complex in the county.

But with the team’s preferred location in West Palm Beach in doubt, some commissioners are wondering if granting money makes any sense since the teams still haven’t secured a site for the stadium.

“Now we are being asked to approve all this money and there’s virtually no place to go,’’ said Commissioner Mary Lou Berger. “Is there even a point talking about this? I’m almost to the point of just not seeing the point of this anymore.’’

The Nationals and Astros still want to build the stadium on 160 acres of West Palm Beach-owned land near Haverhill Road and 45th Street. But the City Commission last week, in a move that hurts the baseball project, voted to negotiate for the next three months with a Boca Raton developer who wants to build a mixed-use project on that same land.

Now, the teams are asking for “conceptual approval” of a new financing plan that would allow them to use some of the money to purchase land at an alternative site in the county if the West Palm Beach site ultimately is ruled out.

The latest financing plan, to be considered Tuesday, calls for the county to allocate $108 million in bed-tax revenue through annual payments of $3.6 million a year for 30 years. The teams also want the county to kick in a one-time payment of $5 million toward so-called “soft costs” such as engineering and architectural work.

County officials say the revised cost of the stadium would be $135 million, including the soft costs, with the teams responsible for any overruns. The team’s stadium cost projections have gone from $170 million to $160 million to $140 million.

On Sept. 23, the commission rejected the teams’ request for $145 million in bed tax money — $90 million from an annual $3 million contribution for 30 years plus another $55 million from a compounding escalator. A majority of commissioners that day indicated they would approve no more than $90 million.

The teams also plan to use $50 million in state tax money. The teams have agreed to contribute $68.8 million to the construction financing through annual rent payments averaging $2.46 million over 28 years.

That’s $231.8 million in public and private dollars for a $135 million stadium, with the difference going to financing costs, including interest on the 30-year bonds.

The latest proposal also has the teams asking for the county to spend another three months evaluating other potential sites in case the West Palm Beach site falls through.

The teams explored potential sites in John Prince Park, a 728-acre park owned by the county west of Lake Worth, including land in the south end of the park near the Lantana airport.

But the county found all options in the south end of the park too costly while the teams have said an 84-acre site in the north end of the park is too small.

The county also “re-evaluated the possibility of locating the stadium in other county parks such as Okeeheelee Park” and Dyer Park but determined none of them would work for a spring training complex, according to a county memo.

“I’m willing to look at anything as long as it doesn’t devastate the park,’’ said County Commissioner Shelley Vana, who plans to ask about John Prince Park on Tuesday.

Team representatives said they were surprised by West Palm Beach’s decision last week to spur the baseball project by voting to spend the next three months negotiating with developer Parkside Commons on the mixed-use project.

The teams pointed out that it was the city that reached out to them last December with a request to consider the 160-acre site for their spring training complex.

“We spent about a year here discussing with many of you the thoughts we had to make this something very special. We haven’t given up hope,’’ Nationals lobbyist mark Foley told the City Commission last week.

“Baseball is a game that is continuously played and we’d like to be part of this city and we hope you will give us a chance to make that proposal.’’

If county commissioners grant the teams’ request on Tuesday, the teams think that would give them enough time to make a case for the West Palm Beach site or find a new one.

While the teams can submit a proposal to West Palm Beach at any time, the city won’t start considering it until after their three-month negotiating window with Parkside Commons expires.

City officials say they tried to help the baseball project earlier this summer by offering to swap their 160 acres with the county in exchange for two acres of county-owned land downtown. The county rejected the offer, saying the small tract, near the train station, is valuable and needed for future county expansion.

While many residents around the West Palm Beach site have embraced the baseball project, many residents in the neighborhoods around John Prince Park have opposed a spring training complex there, although the city of Lake Worth has endorsed it.

Some county commissioners also wonder why the teams are adamant about a 160-acre site when the Astros last year pursued a plan to share a $100 million complex with the Toronto Blue Jays on 110 acres in Palm Beach Gardens.

Palm Beach Gardens officials rejected that proposal early this year because of opposition from residents. That move eventually prompted the Astros to pair up with the Nationals on plans for the West Palm Beach site.

Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals have thrown up another potential hurdle. Any Nationals-Astros deal would include a lease expiring in the year 2044. As part of that deal, the county wants the Marlins and Cardinals to extend their leases at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter to 2044, too, to keep all four teams in the region for that long.

But the Marlins and Cardinals have indicated to the county that they prefer to wait until 2023 at the earliest before considering a lease extension.

Vana, who has pushed the Lake Worth site, agreed there are challenges but she said she hopes the commission can reach an agreement Tuesday.

“I want to keep it alive,” she said of the baseball negotiations.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing for us to lose out on a chance to have two more teams and lose the two teams we have. I think we do have a vested interest in keeping baseball here. If the other teams leave, that would be very bad for the north end (of the county).’’


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