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The Nationals want to move to Fort Myers, but apparently don’t want to pay for it

Nov 29, 2012, 10:30 AM EDT

City of Palms Park

We mentioned this over the weekend in that post about the misgivings local officials have about helping the Red Sox build their new spring training facility, but James Wagner of the Washington Post has a more in-depth story about the Nationals flirtation with Fort Myers.

The upshot: the Nationals approached Hammond Lee County officials about moving to City of Palms park — the Red Sox old spring training home — over the summer, but talks haven’t gone anywhere. This passage says why:

… having committed more than $80 million in a bond issue for a new Red Sox stadium and having approved $42.5 million in upgrades to the Minnesota Twins’ facility, Hammond Stadium, the county is limited in what it can offer the Nationals. Despite the financial constraints, Lee County officials remain optimistic they can still entice the Nationals …

There are a lot of ideas in there about how the government can “lure” the Nationals with $1 rent and diverting some local taxes to eventually pay for renovations. It’s a familiar story.  Nowhere, however, is there mention of what the Nats might pony up themselves.  I guess it’s assumed that a team paying anything for its own facility is crazy talk.

Why the county, which is going broke appeasing the Red Sox and the Twins, should be in the business of “offering” or “enticing” a baseball team owned by an insanely rich person is beyond me. The total renovations required for City of Palms park — which served quite well as the southern home for Red Sox Nation for several years — are about $40-50 million.  That’s less than half of what they’re paying Jayson Werth. It’s about one percent of owner Ted Lerner’s net worth. I bet the Nats could swing it if they wanted to.

Professional sports: the only business in which it is assumed on an a priori basis that the government, not the business owner, will build the factory.

  1. kevinleaptrot - Nov 29, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    The owners of both the Red Sox and Twins could probably have ponied up the money for the renovations that they received, but they apparently have not. It seems to me that Hammond County has set a precedent. Even if the Nats can pay (and I don’t doubt that they can) why should they?

  2. historiophiliac - Nov 29, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    But, if you build it, they will come.

  3. natslady - Nov 29, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    Craig–while you are trolling Nats fans, how did you miss this? I mean, c’mon!

    For Nationals and Tigers, Boras is great Scott

    Great Rizzo quote: “you fish where the fish are.”

  4. schlemealsschlimazel - Nov 29, 2012 at 10:55 AM

    This reminds me of that time when Carl Pohlad and I went to see the “lady show” and he bargained the doorman to let us in for merely four pence and and a BOGO coupon for walleye on a stick.

  5. Shafer's Dealer - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    I always found City of Palms Park to be a shitty place for fans. It has a single grass/dirt lot that fills up an hour before the game and you are left with “unofficials” popping up with orange vests waving you into any empty lot they can find for $5-10…
    Don’t even get me started on $6 beer/dogs and $3 water.

    Wish they would pass it on to the community and let schools use it…

    Hammond Stadium has a much nicer setup and parking.

  6. jjschiller - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    Just as an FYI

    We are Lee County. There is no Hammond County. There is a Hammond Stadium, where the Twins have held spring training for two dozen years.

    Hammond Stadium, City of Palms Park and Jet Blue Stadium are all in “Fort Myers” which really means Lee County. Only City of Palms is actually located in Fort Myers, the city.

    Not that it’s important to understanding the story. But whatever.

    • natstowngreg - Nov 29, 2012 at 3:31 PM

      Yeah, don’t let those pesky facts get in the way of the story.

      Last off-season, the reporting was that the Nats were looking at Ft. Lauderdale, or thereabouts. Now, it’s Ft. Myers. Who knows, perhaps the next report will be that some town in Arizona is offering “incentives” to move the Nats there.

    • natstowngreg - Nov 29, 2012 at 3:45 PM

      Interesting coincidence: a short time ago, James Wagner followed up on his Fort Myers report with one on the Nats’ (apparently, slim) chances of moving to Arizona:

  7. bravojawja - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    I guess I’m just not rich enough for a better school district to try to entice me to move there. Is there some sort of floor for that? Should I have tried to win last night’s Powerball so I could get the taxpayers to pay me to move?

  8. raysfan1 - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    Natslady–How is questioning the sanity of Hammond County, FL, or any other place considering paying for a stadium out of taxpayers’ pockets trolling the Nats? Just because the team in question that might benefit from some municipality’s largesse/stupidity happens to be the Nats does not make it an anti-Nats diatribe.

    • natslady - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:31 AM

      It’s mildly irritating that the headline suggests other teams pay for their spring training facilities while the Nats “apparently” expect a free ride. I’ve done a lot of reading on the politics of spring training and it’s very gnarly. There is “nowhere mention of what the Nats might pony up” because the Nationals declined to comment. Why should they comment when negotiations are on-going? Because that’s working so well for the Mets?

      • kkolchak - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:48 AM

        Actually, Craig has been pretty consistent in opposing taxpayer subsidies to billionaire baseball owners. Even as a Nats fan, I’m opposed to this.

      • natslady - Nov 29, 2012 at 12:20 PM

        @kkolchak, did you read Under the March Sun? Fascinating, with lots of history, but lots more on the competition between Florida and Arizona (and Vegas) for spring training facitilies. This here is basically a competition between Viera and Lee County for what they see as enterprises that will bring money to their area.

        Yes, in theory, it seems logical that teams should build their own stadia–as manufacturers build their own factories. But the history of municipalities and states giving tax breaks and other incentives to “lure” teams and manufacturers to their locales is long-standing–and often corrupt. I don’t see a problem with the Nats trying to get the best deal they can as long as it’s legal.

      • natslady - Nov 29, 2012 at 12:23 PM

        And if you want to eliminate taxpayer subsidies to billionaires…. why single out baseball owners?

      • kkolchak - Nov 29, 2012 at 1:19 PM

        I would eliminate all forms of corporate subsidies and welfare for the rich. But people call that “socialism.”

      • seeingwhatsticks - Nov 30, 2012 at 4:45 AM

        You let me know when Mountain View starts building facilities for Google and then handing over those facilities free of charge. Giving corporations tax breaks to lure jobs is one thing, but building stadiums and ballparks and handing them over to business that don’t actually inject that much revenue into a region is a totally different animal. This crap has gotten way out of hand.

  9. pmcenroe - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    City of Palms is/was a great place for fans (until the Sox won in ’04 and jacked up ticket prices), it has way more shade than at Hammond (and I’m a Twins fan) and its a quaint old school meets new school park (like Camden) right in downtown Ft. Myers. The issue is its not a great MLB facility since the minor league complex is down the road in a bad part of town. I do wish they would let the community and others use it more, I did get to play the most epic playoff HS baseball game of my life in that stadium. Also I know the NCBA held their World Series there for a few years.

  10. raysfan1 - Nov 29, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    Of course any business is going to try to negotiate the best deal it can. All sports team owners routinely try to get cities to build their venues for them, and too often those cities/counties ignorantly agree to foot the bill, and get little in return other than more debt.

    That said, Craig would say the exact same things if it were Braves in question here. I find the idea that this is Nats trolling to be quite oversensitive.

  11. dremmel69 - Nov 29, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    In the state of Florida, competition for tourism dollars is fierce. Teams leverage this to their benefit every chance they get. The municipal entities must see value in funding stadium projects. Otherwise, why make the investment?

    Teams don’t contributed much, but it is an overstatement to say they pay nothing. In Lee County, the Twins and Red Sox each pay $300-500K annually on their leases (Twins re-upped for 30 years as part of their funding deal). Maybe teams kick in 5% or so on construction costs.

    Because stadium investments are high-risk and provide little monetary return, governments SHOULD not use public funds for them.

    The reality is that most state/county/city governments DO use public funds for stadiums….And most owners DO regularly overpay for player contracts…..And too many players DO spend money like a teenage girl with a credit card. Just try to stop them… can’t.

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