Local 6 news partner Florida Today is reporting that Brevard County Commissioner Robin Fisher says he plans to court major league teams that might want to move to Space Coast Stadium — either to join the stadium’s current spring-training tenant, the Washington Nationals, or to replace them.
Fisher and other county officials last month presented the Nationals with a proposal to spend up to $29 million to renovate the Space Coast Stadium complex, if the Nationals sign a new 20-year lease with the county. The offer is contingent on approval by the Brevard County Commission. The Nationals have said they plan to leave Brevard, perhaps as early as the 2015 baseball season.
But, last month, the Osceola County Commission voted 4-1 to reject a proposal to build the Nationals a new $98 million stadium in Kissimmee. That left the Nationals without a place to go if they left Viera.
On Tuesday, Brevard commissioners told Fisher to move forward with his negotiations with the Nationals, while also beginning talks with other major league teams. Fisher said Space Coast Stadium complex upgrades could help make it “big enough to put two teams there.”
The Nationals are “flirting with everybody out there, trying to figure out a better thing,” Fisher told fellow county commissioners. “If the Nationals can date, I can date, too, I think. I think they’re still shopping a little bit. If they can shop, we can shop, too, maybe. We ought to let the world know, because there are a lot of teams shopping, that we’re in the baseball business.”
The proposed Space Coast Stadium upgrades would be funded through refinancing of the county-owned stadium; matching state funds under a new incentive program designed to keep major league spring training in Florida; and money generated by the tourism tax.
Brevard’s proposal also calls for the Nationals to pick up the costs for operations, maintenance, capital repairs and improvements at Space Coast Stadium. The county currently pays for stadium capital repairs and improvements.
Brevard County Tourist Development Council member Jeff Piersall said Fisher’s proposal would benefit both the county and the Nationals by upgrading the stadium and retaining the tourism base generated by Nationals fans from other parts of the country visiting the area, thus generating more hotel tax revenue.
“It’s a great benefit for the county, and it’s a great benefit for the Nationals,” said Piersall, a media executive who for the past five years also has served as the Nationals’ local spring training marketing director.
Among the other potential tenants for Space Coast Stadium are the Houston Astros, who currently train in Kissimmee; the Toronto Blue Jays, who train in Dunedin; and the Milwaukee Brewers, who train in Phoenix.
Three of the four other county commissioners supported Fisher continuing his multifaceted efforts at keeping pro baseball in Brevard.
But Commissioner Trudie Infantini said she wouldn’t want to spend more money to keep the Nationals.
“I’m not really a big fan of buying people to stay here. I think they are looking at the wrong place for love,” Infantini said. “They’re going to be making fools out of us if we keep offering them more and more money to stay here. So I’m willing to accept the losses.”
Fisher said some hotel operators have expressed concerns about his proposal for using the tourism tax money in this way to keep the Nationals here.
But Space Coast Office of Tourism Executive Director Rob Varley said “the tourism industry is not opposed to keeping baseball. They just want an equitable return on investment.”