$29M plan proposed to keep Nationals in Brevard County

Proposal calls for a new 20-year lease with Washington at an upgraded Space Coast Stadium

Space Coast Stadium in Viera
Space Coast Stadium in Viera (Florida Today)

VIERA, Fla. – Brevard County Commissioner Robin Fisher says he's going "all-in" in an attempt to keep major league baseball spring training in Viera.

On Thursday, he proposed that the county refinance the county-owned Space Coast Stadium and take advantage of matching state funds to help pay for up to $29 million in upgrades to the facility, according to Local 6 News partner FLORIDA TODAY.

Fisher said he and other county officials — including County Manager Howard Tipton and County Attorney Scott Knox — presented the plan Thursday during a teleconference with Nationals Vice President Damon Jones, who plans to brief other Nationals executives.

The proposal would have to be approved by the County Commission.

It comes days after the Osceola County Commission voted 4-1 against a plan to build a new $98 million stadium in Kissimmee for the Nationals, using a combination of Osceola County hotel tax revenue and state incentives.

The Nationals have told Brevard County that they are planning to leave Viera, possibly before their current lease agreement with the county runs out in 2017. The team cited Viera's relatively long distance from other spring training sites in the state as a reason for relocating.

Brevard County commissioners in May designated Fisher as their point person in negotiating with the Nationals.

Fisher said he wanted to go on the offensive in trying to keep the Nationals here, rather than playing defense by negotiating with the Nationals over an exit strategy for the team.

Fisher's proposal calls for a new 20-year lease agreement with the Nationals. In turn, the county would upgrade the stadium complex using $29 million from three sources:

• The county would refinance the stadium for $13 million. It would pay that debt using $986,900 a year from a portion of the county's 5 percent tax on hotel room rentals. That's the same stream of money the county used to finance the stadium's construction in 1993. The county made the last payments on the construction bonds earlier this year.

• The county would receive a $13 million match from a new state incentive program designed to keep major league teams' spring training in Florida, rather than moving their operations to Arizona. The money would come to the county in 20 annual installments, beginning the first year of the new lease agreement.

• The county would use $3 million already accumulated from a share of the room tax.

Fisher said the county would work with the Nationals on what those upgrades might entail.

As part of the agreement, the county would spend $1.6 million over the 20-year lease period for advertising to attract fans to spring training games, again using room tax money, an expenditure of $80,000 a year.

The Nationals would assume responsibility for operations, maintenance, capital repairs and improvements at Space Coast Stadium. The county currently pays for stadium capital repairs and improvements.

Earlier this week, the Nationals released a statement saying they "are sorry that we couldn't come to an agreement with Osceola County," while adding: "We recognize this was just one option toward finding the right site, deal and partner to build our one-of-a-kind, family-friendly spring training and fan-experience facility."

The Nationals statement said the team would "continue to talk with other interested counties in Florida and Arizona, and believe that the appropriate combination of site and investment will pay dividends for the right community long into the future."

Nationals spokeswoman Lara Potter said the team did not have additional comment, as it just received the new Brevard County offer.

Fisher said he "wanted to put something on the table" for the Nationals to consider in an effort to keep them in Viera.

"I've gotten tired of having an exit strategy conversation," Fisher said. "We're all-in, baby. This is how we are."

Fisher said he got the impression from Jones, the Nationals' vice president and general counsel, that the team wasn't expecting an offer like this, and that it would be taken seriously.

In a follow-up email, Fisher thanked Jones "for taking the time to meet with us via phone conference. As I stated, all of my previous discussions with you have been about you leaving. I appreciate the opportunity to tell you candidly that we do not want you to leave, and back that up with the ‘all-in' offer I've presented. We are looking forward to hearing the feedback from your board, and hope that we can move to the next stage of approving a final agreement to not only retain the Washington Nationals in Brevard County, but also to continue building a strong relationship between your organization and our community at large."

Fisher told Jones that, if the Nationals accept the plan, he hopes to present it to the County Commission on Sept. 17.