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County to look into bringing Nationals to City of Palms

By Staff | Mar 21, 2012

Lee County will examine the possibility of having the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team occupy the vacant City of Palms Park for spring training.

Tuesday, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners directed staffers to determine the feasibility of the Major League team using the facility for Spring Training, year round training and player rehabilitation.

“It’s very, very, very preliminary,” Commissioner John Manning said.

Staffers will learn the wants and desires of the Nationals, figure out the associated costs and compare those to the county’s tourist tax funds.

“And see if that all works,” Manning said.

Prior to agreeing to a proposal, however, the county must consider any improvements or financial obligations tied to Hammond Stadium, where the Minnesota Twins host spring training. He said the facility is 22 years old.

“We’re kind of on a dual track here,” Manning said.

City of Palms Park became vacant this year when the Boston Red Sox moved into the new JetBlue Park for spring training. The county initially tried to find another Major League team to take up the facility, with no success.

“Our first priority was to find a baseball team,” Commissioner Tammy Hall said, adding that there were talks with the Nationals and Baltimore Orioles.

“There really weren’t teams that had a termination date that were viable to talk to,” she said. “We didn’t have a baseball team that was ready.”

The county then considered a proposal from the National Swimming Center Corporation to convert the stadium into a multi-purpose aquatic facility. The deal died when the organization failed to prove it had the financial backing.

“We went through a painful process of trying to lock down their finances,” Hall said of the National Swimming Center Corporation.

She added that the organization submitted a new proposal on Friday.

According to Manning, discussions with the Nationals are not exclusive.

“If other teams or other sports bring forth a viable proposal, then we will certainly entertain it,” he said, adding that county staffers will likely look at the new proposal submitted by the National Swimming Center Corporation.

“In my view, it’s not very viable,” Manning said. “I’d love to see another baseball team in there, but we have to balance the cost with any kind of improvements that will have to be made and the return on investments.”

Hall agreed that the county will look at the organization’s newest proposal, but that the city of Fort Myers is a partner in the process and has a say.

“The city’s preference has always been to maintain baseball there,” she said.

“They still carry the debt of the stadium.”

The new occupant should help spur urban renewal in the local area.

“We want to make sure that whatever goes there is an asset to the city,” Hall said. “See it create more opportunities for that whole neighborhood.”

City of Palms Park is at 2201 Edison Ave. in Fort Myers. Hammond Stadium and JetBlue Park are both located in south Lee County.