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AJC Sports

Braves consider options for end of Disney lease in ‘17

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Atlanta Braves, spring training, Champion Stadium

The Atlanta Braves have called Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., their spring home since 1998. (Jason Getz / AJC)

By Tim Tucker
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Braves are considering options for a spring-training home when their lease at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex expires in three years.

Braves president John Schuerholz emphasized that the team has not decided to move its spring base from the Disney resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., but he said the issue must be explored with the 20-year lease ending in 2017 and two other teams in talks about moving farther away.

“We find ourselves now in a circumstance where teams in the central Florida area have begun migrating out,” Schuerholz said Tuesday in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It would be problematic if we found ourselves in three years with no one in close proximity to play except the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland.”

Timeline: Braves’ spring training homes

Schuerholz said the Braves will complete their current lease with Disney and that this is the prudent time to examine what comes next.

“We are doing it not because we desire to do it but because we have to tend to our business,” he said. “A critical part of our business is finding a place to train our players. It might very well be (at Disney), but it might not. I don’t have the answer to that right now.

“I don’t want to leave our organization in a circumstance that I don’t do what I need to do to provide alternatives, to determine if there are alternatives out there.”

If the Braves move their spring home, it would remain in Florida, Schuerholz said. “We wouldn’t be an Arizona team,” he said.

He would not say if the Braves are in active talks regarding other sites. “I’m going to say I have no comment on that question at the moment,” he said after a long pause.

The Braves moved their spring training home to the then-new Wide World of Sports complex in 1998 after having it in West Palm Beach from 1962 through 1997. The complex now includes 10 athletic venues, including Champion Stadium, where the Braves hold their workouts and play their home exhibition games.

Predictably, the stadium has been eclipsed by newer spring-training venues in terms of clubhouse space and training room facilities. While those issues could be addressed as part of a lease extension if both parties were willing, the map is a more complicated matter.

The teams that are most convenient for the Braves to play in Grapefruit League exhibition games are the Houston Astros, who train about 10 miles away in Kissimmee; the Tigers, who train about 40 miles away in Lakeland; and the Washington Nationals, about 60 miles away in Viera. Because of their proximity, those teams are the Braves’ most frequent exhibition opponents.

However, both the Astros and Nationals are unhappy with their current facilities and are in talks about relocating their spring homes, leading to the Braves’ concern that they might be left with only the Tigers as a convenient exhibition opponent.

The Astros’ and Nationals’ owners met last week with Palm Beach County officials about the possibility of a new shared stadium in that area. A financing plan is not in place, however. The Astros also are looking into the possibility of moving their spring base to Arizona.

The Braves are not involved in the talks with Palm Beach County, Schuerholz said.

Other than the Astros, Nationals and Tigers, the Braves’ most convenient trips from Lake Buena Vista for exhibition games are to the Tampa Bay area, which can take “anywhere from an hour to an hour-and-a-half-plus, getting across the causeways and bridges,” Schuerholz said.

Eight of the 15 teams that train in Florida are based along the state’s west coast.

Despite the travel issues, Schuerholz did not rule out the Braves remaining in their current spring home with a lease extension beyond 2017. He said the team has a “great dialogue” and “fine partnership” with Disney.

It could turn out, he said, that “we and Disney find a way to make this work here, which is a possibility, or that no alternate site becomes available.”

It is not unusual for the Braves to consider their options at this point in a lease. With three seasons remaining on a 20-year Turner Field lease, they struck a deal last fall to move to a new stadium in Cobb County in 2017.

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