Astros set sights on new Spring Training facility
Palm Beach County remains first choice, but club exploring all options
HOUSTON -- A week after the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., city council directed the city manager to end all work on a proposed Spring Training baseball complex to be shared by the Astros and Blue Jays, the Astros are exploring other options with hopes of breaking ground by the end of the year.
Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe, who's spearheading the team's efforts to relocate its Spring Training operations from Kissimmee, Fla., following the 2016 season, said Wednesday the team still hopes to be able to build a complex in Palm Beach County, while acknowledging it's looking elsewhere in Florida and even exploring options in Arizona.
"Obviously, our preference is Palm Beach Gardens and still is," Kibbe said. "We're open to looking at different sites in Palm Beach County. If they come forward with something that fits what we need, we'll be interested in making that work. I have to move forward and look at all options throughout Florida and throughout Arizona."
The team would like to leave Osceola County Stadium at the end of its current lease that expires in 2016, but that means construction on a new site would have to begin by the end of the year, Kibbe said. The facility would have to be completed in January 2017.
Palm Beach Gardens, which saw stiff opposition for the stadium for residents concerned about traffic, has asked the county to take the lead in site selection, and the county is looking at all publicly owned sites that are available to accommodate land for 12 practice fields and a stadium.
"We're really looking broadly throughout the county to determine, 'What's the best site available for this project?' and then once that decision is made, and that evaluation is complete, we'll start focusing on locking things down for whichever site," Kibbe said.
Kibbe said a two-team facility remains a top priority for financial reasons. He said the Florida state legislature has approved $50 million in funding for a two-team facility, which would cost between $100 million and $110 million to build. The state would chip in $20 million for a single-team facility, which would cost about $60 million to $70 million.
"The economic impact and the benefit revenue generated by a two-team facility is almost twice as much as a single-team facility," he said. "It really doesn't make sense for it to be a single-team facility. I guess that's an option, but financially as a return on an investment for the municipality, it doesn't make sense."
The Astros are the only team in either the American League West or National League West to still have Spring Training in the Grapefruit League. The team would prefer to join the Blue Jays in southeast Florida, where five teams -- also the Cardinals and Marlins in Jupiter and Mets in Port St. Lucie -- would be anchored.
"We're optimistic that we can do this," Kibbe said. "There are a couple of other sites [in Palm Beach County] I know about they want us to look at. We're trying to determine whether those sites fit the needs for everyone involved, but we're not going to go to a site that doesn't work for the Astros.
"And so, knowing that there's some potential that whatever site works for the city and the county might not work for the Astros, I'm also refocusing some efforts on Arizona, which I had worked on a couple of years ago. Palm Beach County is looking at different sites that might fit the needs, but I'm also now in a position where I need to go out and evaluate other areas. I'm working on that as well."