After hurdling over legislative red tape and squabbles over spending, it looks like a new spring training complex will be built in West Palm Beach after Gov. Rick Scott held a ceremonial bill signing Monday morning. The 160-acre facility, which will be home to the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros, will be built at 45th Street and Haverhill Road. It is expected to open January 2017.
Last month, the project passed through a key hurdle when Scott signed into law a land-use change that had threatened the project. At issue was that the Nationals and Astros were hoping that the City of West Palm Beach would donate property for the complex and that the county would pay for the project's development.
But in April, the Senate passed a House land-use bill that essentially give the green light for construction. The land-use change freed up 27 acres that shrinks the size of a buffer zone between the site and a canal. Portions of the site will be used for parking and grass fields.
The area where the complex has been proposed to be built used to be a landfill and belongs to the City of West Palm Beach, which had to negotiate a land-swap deal with Palm Beach County in which the county would trade 1.8 acres of downtown land to the city for the 143.3-acre area where the baseball complex will be built. The county had previously approved $108 million in public funding for a facility.
"Palm Beach County has worked hard to create a premier spring training destination here in South Florida, and today's bill signing moves us that much further towards our goal," Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana said in a news release Monday. "Together, with our partners, we welcome two more major league teams to Palm Beach County for a total of four teams, and I can't wait to see the first pitch get thrown at the new stadium."
West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio added, "Today's signing and the economic benefit that baseball will bring us all is a perfect example of how much can be accomplished when all levels of government, from city to county to the state, work together on behalf of all our residents."
On Monday's signing of House Bill 1213, Scott ensured that the Nats and Astros will remain in Florida for the next 30 years and Florida will continue to retain its 15 spring training teams in the Grapefruit League.
“Spring training and Major League Baseball are a major reason why Florida continues to welcome record numbers of tourists," Scott said via a news release. "Last year almost 99 million people visited Florida — and we’re on pace for even more visitors this year. With the Nationals and Astros announcing their spring training operations will remain in Florida for the next 30 years and the news that our state will host the MLB All Star Game in 2017, it’s clear that Florida is the number-one state for baseball in the country.”
The Astros, who currently train in Osceola County, released a statement from team owner Jim Crane, who said, "Thank you to Governor Rick Scott for supporting the new facility. Today is a great day for baseball, and we are thrilled to have West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County be our new home for spring training."
The Nationals and Astros have been saying that keeping the teams in South Florida would be an economic boost for the area.
According to their own study, the two teams have claimed that a new stadium would bring in 160,000 to 220,000 visitors a year, with 94,400 to 129,800 from out of state.
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.