Houston Astros owner talks baseball with Palm Beach County


The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are focusing their pursuit of a shared spring training baseball complex on 160 acres in West Palm Beach south of 45th Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail.

The teams indicated that an 84-acre site in John Prince Park west of Lake Worth “is too small for the two-team facility that they currently envision,’’ County Administrator Bob Weisman said after a meeting Tuesday between the teams, the county and the city of West Palm Beach.

But there are still several major unresolved issues surrounding the West Palm Beach site, including construction costs, maintenance responsibilities and, perhaps most important, who will pay.

“We identified where some of the resources were and where they weren’t. We have agreed to meet again and try to pull it together,’’ Astros owner Jim Crane told The Palm Beach Post as he left the meeting with Art Fuccillo, a general partner with the Nationals who was the team’s point person in the construction of Nationals Park in Washington.

The next meeting could happen in two weeks. No date has been set “but I know they want to move quickly,’’ Weisman said.

Crane would not elaborate on a cost estimate for the facility, which was as high as $110 million for a site the Astros and Toronto Blue Jays were pursuing in Palm Beach Gardens last year.

Weisman downplayed published reports that put the latest estimate as high as $140 million. “There is no such number at the moment. All I can say is the number exceeds $100 million,’’ he said.

But Weisman said there are “very substantial” development costs associated with the West Palm Beach land because it was once the site of a landfill.

Whether the city kicks in money “is subject to discussion,’’ Weisman said, adding that “there was definitely a willingness by the teams to participate” in paying for the project.

Although the teams would not comment on details about what they want their complex to look like, Weisman said preliminary talks with the county describe a modest stadium. “It’s not an overly large stadium. No bigger than Roger Dean (Stadium).’’

Roger Dean Stadium, a $28 million facility opened in Jupiter in 1998, seats 6,871. It is home to the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals.

County officials are trying to lure more teams to the region to reduce the amount of travel for the Cardinals, Marlins, Nationals and New York Mets. The Nationals now train in Viera and the Mets in Port St. Lucie, but any of the four teams in the southeast region can break their leases and leave if one of those teams moves out of the area.

“We think it’s great for the community and great to keep the other teams here, so we are positive we can get something done,’’ Crane said after Tuesday’s meeting. “That’s what we want to do. That’s why we keep spending time on it.’’

Tuesday’s meeting was the first between the teams and the county since the Legislature on May 2 approved changes that make it easier to use up to $50 million in state money earmarked for spring training facilities.

Another source of stadium money would come from a county tourist tax on hotels, presumably $2.6 million a year. But Weisman said, “It’s too early to say how much that number would be.’’

Other open issues to be analyzed include the ability to bond the county and state money and how the complex might be used to benefit city and county residents when it’s not being used by the teams.

“We didn’t come to any conclusions,” West Palm Beach City Administrator Jeff Green said after the meeting.

Green said the participants “set the parameters. The stadium will cost a certain amount, which hasn’t been decided yet. Someone will have to own the stadium. Someone will have to maintain the stadium.”

Green repeated the city’s position that “the county needs to own the stadium. That’s a property tax issue.”

The city has said that if it owns the facility, it would have to pay all property taxes, including county and school board.

The site is the same one considered in 1997 by the Baltimore Orioles. The Nationals were formerly the Montreal Expos, which trained in West Palm Beach for decades before departing in 1998.

Post staff writer Eliot Kleinberg contributed to this story.


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