As Atlanta Braves search for new spring training home, donations flow to key Florida state senators
The Atlanta Braves still don’t know where in Florida they will move their spring training operations in 2019, but that is not stopping them from sending campaign donations to key state legislators who could help them with stadium financing when they do find a new home.
Earlier this month, the Braves gave $1,000 to a political committee run by new Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. That is just months after the team sent $1,000 donations each to new Senate President Joe Negron and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who will run the Senate Rules Committee.
The Braves are in a bit of a spring training stadium limbo. Their 20 year lease to train at the Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando ends in 2017. The team and Disney are working on a one year extension to cover 2018 while they search for a new home. Team officials told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this year that with spring training teams for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals moving out of Osceola and Brevard County respectively, the team is left with few teams close to play regularly, putting them on longer bus rides to Florida west coast or southeast Florida where more teams are now clustered.
Over the last year, the Braves have explored new stadium options in Pinellas, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Collier counties, but have not reached a deal yet.
The donations to the three lawmakers are not very big in comparison to other teams with pressing stadium needs. The Tampa Bay Rays, for instance, have put $20,000 to Latvala's political committee, Florida Leadership Committee, since 2014.
What if anything the Senate can do about either stadium issue is questionable. The Florida House has taken a hardline against future professional team stadium funding, though the Legislature had previouisly set up a process for counties to apply for a pot of state money for spring training retention through the Department of Economic Opportunity. The state can give up to $20 million to a county for a spring training team that agrees to a lease of at least 20 years without a vote of the Legislature.