GAME CHANGER: North Port celebrates highest beam at new ballpark in ‘topping-off’ ceremony


July 23, 2018

By ALEXANDRA HERRERA - STAFF WRITER

I-beam signed by area officials, Braves dignitaries, local residents

NORTH PORT — Major League Baseball is in the seventh-inning stretch of the 2018 season. And so is construction of the Atlanta Braves new spring training facility, where area residents and visitors can look forward to the next 30 seasons of ball games.

The city of North Port, West Villages and Sarasota County officials along with Braves leaders celebrated the highest steel beam being put into place Friday.  The group gathered for the official topping-off ceremony at the new spring training facility.

The $110 million spring training facility is a joint collaboration between the city, county, the Braves and West Villages.  The groups — along with those involved in the design and construction of the facility — came out to celebrate the milestone just nine months after groundbreaking.

The signatures of North Port Mayor Vanessa Carusone, West Villages official Marty Black along with Mary Dougherty are written into the topping I-beam, used in a Friday ceremony at the new Atlanta Braves spring training stadium being built in North Port.

Officials with the Atlanta Braves, city of North Port, Sarasota County, West Villages and others involved in the construction of the new Braves spring training facility in North Port gather around the ceremonial topping beam Friday morning. The $110 million project is underway in West Villages and is set to open in spring 2019.

 “Having spring training in Florida is the same as having the Super Bowl every year,” Detert said Detert said it was due to the economic impact from spring training.  Carusone said the building of the stadium was part of many milestones in the city.

Speaking with the Sun after the hourlong ceremony, Vice Mayor Linda Yates called the park a “game changer.” She said it will give assurance to those looking for economic opportunities in the city of North Port.

Marty Black, general director of the West Villages, called the project a seed for the future of the West Villages.  “We’ve gone from a concept that people said we couldn’t achieve (and) it’s a reality,” he said.

The Atlanta Braves Spring Training stadium is receiving credit for transforming the region already.  The Florida Economic Development Council recently named the stadium its regional “Deal of the Year,” citing the 139 jobs and $1.7 billion economic impact it is slated to bring to Southwest Florida.

North Port officials presented an award noting that to Sarasota County and West Villages officials during the event Friday.

With the park moving along at its current pace, Black said work can begin on the West Villages Marketplace. The marketplace will be anchored by a Publix and have several businesses near the corner of West Villages Parkway and U.S. 41.  “We’re bringing more development south of U.S. 41,” he said.

Black said with the ballpark nearing completion it will attract businesses to the area.  At the same time, West Villages continues to grow with dozens of homes under construction and hundreds of people moving into North Port through the West Villages sites, including IslandWalk, Gran Paradiso and other nearby communities.

West Villages President Paul Erhardt said during the ceremony it remains committed to growing the area with an emphasis of nearby amenities and entertainment for its residents. Businesses including a grocery store and gas station, among others, are looking to locate at the marketplace, he said — noting they hope to have a groundbreaking ceremony within the next few months for that new construction.

PLAY BALL

The ballpark will be the official home of Braves spring training beginning at the end of the 2019 spring training season.

The park will be completed ahead of the 2019 spring training season, but the Braves will play in Lake Buena Vista most of that season. The final game of the 2019 spring training season will be played in North Port.  Despite this, there is still excitement from all those involved, as well as the community.

Braves Vice President for Florida Operations Mike Dunn said a recent ticket sale event in North Port at the George Mullen Activity Center was well-received. Dunn said about 1,700 tickets have been reserved for the upcoming season. Those who bought seats will get to start seeing the charts to pick where they will sit next month.

“In August, we’ll start placing seats,” he said. Dunn added that the team gets to continue to reach for milestones, and completing the park is just one of those.

People interested in the spring training facility aren’t currently allowed to drive by the site because of the construction danger. Those wanting to look at concepts for it and to talk to Braves baseball officials are welcome to stop by the preview center at 14906 Tamiami Trail, which is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

All the Braves spring training operations will move to the city April 1, 2019. The rookie season will extend beyond April through October and there will also be Gulf Coast League and Fall Instructional League played at the site.

When completed, the stadium will have 6,500 fixed seats, luxury suites and room for another 2,500 for general admission on a berm, as well as a 360-degree concourse.

There will be six full practice fields and two half-fields.  A large grass parking field and entrance plaza will be available for public use. The county and the city will be able to use the stadium for 10 events every year.

‘IT’S AMAZING’

As the project gets closer to completion, Sarasota County Director of Business and Economic Development Jeff Maultsby was lauded. Maultsby was acknowledged Friday for helping the project get to where it is today. It is his last project for the county.  After a decade with the county, Maultsby was recently named the assistant superintendent for operations for Sarasota County Schools.

He said it was a labor of love and he plans to be there when the park opens.  “To see this today, it’s amazing,” Maultsby said.

Email: aherrera@sun-herald.com

‘Having spring training in Florida is the same as having the Super Bowl every year.’

— Nancy Detert, Sarasota County commissioner