Palm Beach News

Palm Beach County Commission Strikes Down New Baseball Stadium

Correction: an earlier version of this story mixed up details of competing proposals before Palm Beach County and the city of West Palm Beach. Corrections are in strikethroughs and editor's notes below.

On Tuesday, the Palm Beach County Commission voted down a proposition to build a $140.1 million spring training stadium for major league ball clubs Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.

The vote was a close 4-3, with commissioners Mary Lou Berger and Steven Abrams saying they'd voted yes if awarding hotel bed taxes for the stadium remained constant.

[[Editor's note: The teams have hoped that the City of West Palm Beach would donate a 160-acre parcel of property for the site, and that the county would provide funds over 30 years to pay for the development of the site. But the city has been adamant that it be be compensated for the property, and was recently approached by a private company that is willing to pay $14 million for the land, in hopes of building homes and park on the site. This proposed project has been dubbed "Project Cayman."]]

The initial proposal, which came from a private company, included apartments, townhouses, and single-family homes as well as industrial and commercial that would have covered a 160-acre site in Lake Worth.

The site, located just south of 45th Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail, also would have featured a 39-acre public park.

The stadium project, dubbed "Project Cayman," was where the Astros and Nationals are hoping to play their spring training games. The proposal asked for $145 million in hotel tax revenue. But leading up to Tuesday's vote, the county felt that the request posed too many risks. Palm Beach County Administrator Bob Weisman advised the commissioners to deny the teams' request for the stadium.

The South Florida Business Journal reports that both the Astros and Nationals have been insisting on an annual escalator for the payments, which would significantly increase their construction funding:

"We very much need an escalator," Nationals General Partner Arthur Fuccillo told the commission. "We don't mind talking with county staff for another 30 days."

Basically, Palm Beach County can afford to give only $90 million in bed tax revenue, not the full $145 million the Astros and Nationals have been requesting.

Some residents who spoke at the meeting before the vote expressed concern that the county's bed tax should be used to repair beaches and that a new stadium -- even during spring -- wouldn't make much of a difference in bringing in money to the local economy.

The Astros and Nationals, meanwhile, said a new stadium would bring in 160,000 to 220,000 visitors a year, with 94,400 to 129,800 from out of state, according to their own study.

The stadium, they said, would also create an annual economic impact of $92.1 million to $128.6 million, with a big chunk of that going directly to the local economy. Their study also says the stadium would create thousands of jobs.

[[Editor's note: There is some pressure for Palm Beach County officials to make a deal with the teams, because only four teams remain on the east coast of Florida, once a spring training mecca. The Orioles and Nationals have said they've been courted by West Coast cities. Some advocates have called for a stadium to be built in Lake Worth instead, on a site near John Prince Park. Team reps have said they prefer West Palm beach but the Lake Worth option remains on the table.

The teams, which hope to play in Palm Beach County by 2017, plan to appear before the commission again on October 21 to try once again to come to a deal.

On Sunday, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio took to her newsletter to express her feelings on the stadium, saying the project's "renewed talk of building a facility in Lake Worth is appealing."

She also wrote that the location where the stadium is being proposed to be built is a "valuable asset" and something she won't simply give away without the county getting something major in return.

She did say that the Project Cayman proposal was worth serious consideration.

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