Blue Jays no longer looking in Palm Beach County; Astros considering facility with Nationals near Lake Worth

Lake Worth city officials think they have a home run of an idea to help revitalize their city and save spring training on Florida’s east coast: A baseball stadium on the shores of Lake Osborne in John Prince Park.

They just need Palm Beach County, which owns the land, to buy into the idea. And that might not happen anytime soon.

“We don’t want to create any false expectations. We’re only in the exploratory stages,’’ said City Commissioner Scott Maxwell. “Pardon the baseball pun, but we’re just trying to figure out who’s on first and what’s on second.’’

Still, city officials say they are cautiously optimistic about the prospect of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals sharing a spring training complex on 80-some acres in the 728-acre park just south of Lake Worth Road and west of Lake Osborne.

The Palm Beach Post has already reported about the Nationals expressing an interest in suburban Lake Worth as a potential spring training home.

Now, Lake Worth officials say the Astros are looking at the possibility of sharing the site with the Nationals.

“It’s being strongly considered,’’ said Lake Worth City Manager Mike Bornstein, who spoke with an Astros representative on Friday.

The Astros had wanted to share a complex in Palm Beach Gardens with the Toronto Blue Jays, but the Blue Jays told Palm Beach County officials last week that the team is no longer looking in the county because they’ve decided to stay in Dunedin.

“Toronto is no longer a player in this anymore, said Palm Beach County commissioner Hal Valeche, who is spearheading the county’s efforts to attract more teams for spring training.

The collapse of the Palm Beach Gardens stadium plan led to the Nationals-Astros pair-up.

“We want to be in Palm Beach County in a two-team facility,” said Giles Kibbe, general counsel for the Astros, who confirmed that he has had brief conversations with the Nationals “The Nationals have expressed interest, and so if that’s the direction the county would like to go, we’re all in favor.”

Maxwell went to Washington D.C. two weeks ago to tour Nationals Park, which has helped revitalize an area in need of an economic boost — the same kind of boost Lake Worth hopes to get from a spring training complex.

“It may not be our own land but we’re responsible for the utilities,” Maxwell said of the John Prince Park proposal. “This isn’t just about Lake Worth. This is a regional impact.”

Lake Worth officials are excited enough about the idea that they compiled a computerized site plan to see how a ballpark and fields might fit in John Prince Park. One schematic has the main stadium with the lake in the background.

“It’s a cool concept,’’ Bornstein said. “How it plays out is in the hands of the county and the teams.’’

County Commissioner Shelley Vana, whose district includes John Prince Park, said she told at least one county official that she likes the idea because it could give an economic boost to an area in need of revitalization.

But Vana said the county might be reluctant to give up park land and to pay for the project with tourism tax money if there’s a chance the teams can move into the region but outside of Palm Beach County.

Vana said county officials have been talking to St. Lucie County about the possibility of a team sharing Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie with the New York Mets.

Four teams are needed in the region to help preserve spring training on Florida’s east coast. Besides the Mets, the area now has the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter and the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium in Viera.

But the Nationals have asked Brevard County to amend their lease, which now expires Dec. 31, 2017, so they can leave by November. And if the Nationals leave the region, the other three teams can automatically get out of their respective leases so they aren’t stuck traveling long distances for spring training games.

But prospective teams might be reluctant to go to Tradition Field because of the complex’s long association with the Mets.

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, a lobbyist for the Nationals, said his team is keeping an open mind about sharing a complex with the Astros.

“Anything is possible but I don’t know of any earnest discussions that have occurred between the two (owners) of the teams. The owners would have to really sit down and hammer out those details,’’ Foley said.

A two-team complex would need at least 100 acres. Bornstein said a complex would use 80-some acres in the John Prince Park, so he hoped Palm Beach State College, which is west of the park, could become a partner in the project.

Residents in Lake Osborne, a neighborhood of 450 homes, including many on the east side of the lake, aren’t convinced about the location.

“I polled my people,” said Robert Waples, president of the Residents of Lake Osborne Heights. “They all said we all like the idea of having it in Lake Worth. They don’t like the idea of the lights the noise and the traffic.”

He suggested the Lake Worth Park of Commerce north of Lake Worth Road might be a better location.

Another reason Bornstein likes the John Prince Park option is its proximity to both Interstate 95 and Florida’s Turnpike and to Palm Beach International Airport to the north and Palm Beach County Airport to the south on Lantana Road. It’s also within walking distance of a Tri-Rail Station.

“At this point I really feel like we have a legitimate seat at the table,’’ he said. “This is a very legitimate site.’’

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