CoolToday Park is a ballpark in North Port, Florida, located in the southern portion of Sarasota County, 35 miles (56 km) south of Sarasota, Florida. It is the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves of Major League Baseball. The ballpark opened on March 24, 2019, with the Braves’ 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
|Address||18800 South West Villages Parkway|
|Location||North Port, Florida|
|Public transit||Sarasota County Area Transit|
|Capacity||6,200 fixed seats and 8,000 total|
|Broke ground||October 16, 2017|
|Opened||March 24, 2019|
|Construction cost||$140 million|
|Architect||Fawley Bryant Architecture & Pendulum|
|Project manager||Carolyn Eastwood|
|General contractor||Tandem Construction|
|Atlanta Braves (MLB) (2019 planned)|
GCL Braves (GCL) (2019–present)
The Braves’ $140 million project was funded by private and public sources. Sarasota County contributed $21.2 million through hotel bed tax dollars. The state of Florida put in $20 million after showing the Braves arrival would add $1.7 billion economic impact on the area over the team’s 30-year lease. Mattamy Homes, a private developer, donated the land and $4.7 million. The city of North Port contributed $4.7 million and the West Villages, the planned community within North Port that houses the facility, ran the construction and development. The Braves committed a 30-year lease, annual payments to West Villages, and at a minimum the first $18 million in the cost of the complex.
In 2015, the Atlanta Braves began looking for a new Spring Training home. The Braves, who held spring training at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando since 1997, sought a new spring home in Florida to get closer to other teams’ facilities.
In April 2016, the Braves and Sarasota County officials announced they were in formal negotiations. The Braves and Sarasota County began discussing a 100- to 150-acre site in the West Villages master-planned community in North Port.
In January 2017, the Braves and Sarasota County announced that they had entered formal negotiations. Plans for the project show a $125 million complex on about 70 acres. Six weeks after the Braves entered exclusive negotiations with Sarasota County, Fla., about a new spring-training facility, the parties reached agreement on the key terms of a proposed deal. The term sheet describes a $75.4 million facility to be built in the city of North Port and funded by Sarasota County, the state of Florida, North Port, the Braves and a private developer.
City and County approval
On February 28, 2017, the planned deal for a new Atlanta Braves spring training stadium received its first approval. The initial agreement, known as a term sheet, outlines some of the basic finance, construction and operating commitments for baseball stadium. The Sarasota County Commission voted 4-1 to approve the terms, but only after commissioners raised serious questions about naming rights for the would-be stadium and public access to its numerous baseball and multi-use fields. Although other commissioners seemed to support her concerns, no amendments were made to the terms, which now still include that the team is to retain revenues from naming the stadium. Ultimately, commissioners agreed, there is more negotiating to be done and time to refine public access issues in the series of agreements due before the board in coming months.
On May 9, 2017, the Sarasota County Commission unanimously endorsed the plan to revise the distribution of the county’s tourist development tax, collected on overnight stays at hotel rooms and short-term rentals. The county plans to borrow about $22 million for the project and pay it back using a portion of the tourist tax funds, now specifically designated for the new Braves complex and the Baltimore Orioles’ Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, without raising the tax itself.
The mechanism behind the change is perhaps best understood by imagining the 5% tax as five pennies levied on every dollar spent on hotel stays or short-term rentals. Each of those “pennies” are divided and distributed to fund certain projects and the tax raises about $20 million a year. By shifting the assignments of those “pennies,” the county will now dedicate about 15% of the annual collections — estimated at $3.3 million — to pay back borrowing for both the Braves and Ed Smith stadiums, plus capital improvement agreements for each.
On May 23, 2017, the Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously to approve an operating agreement that spells out the terms and conditions of a new facility for the Braves and a non-relocation agreement that requires the team to hold spring training in the complex for 30 years. The 48-page operating agreement sets a targeted completion date of January 15, 2019, for construction of the facility, which is to be built in the Sarasota County city of North Port.
In June 2017, the West Villages submitted the final grant application for $20 million in state stadium funding necessary to complete the $75 million to $80 million proposed public-private financing deal. Also, North Port city leaders endorsed a licensing agreement with the Braves that allows for regular public use of the complex outside of baseball games. This satisfied concerns that commissioners have raised over the past few months.
On July 25, 2017, the North Port City Commission voted 3-2 to pay $4.7 million of sales tax money to help fund the spring training complex. Mayor Linda Yates and Commissioner Debbie McDowell both opposed approving the inter-local agreement. Commissioner Chris Hanks proved the swing vote on the motion to approve funding that was made by Vice Mayor Vanessa Carusone and seconded by Commissioner Jill Luke.
On September 1, 2017, it was announced that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity had conditionally approved $20 million that rounded out funding for the project. On September 12, 2017 the Sarasota County commissioners unanimously approved the agreements.
Commissioners also approved an interlocal agreement that outlines rights and responsibilities between the county and the West Villages Improvement District. The West Villages Improvement District will be responsible for the design and construction of the training facility. Upon completion, ownership will be transferred to the county. On September 19, 2017, the plan received its final public approval from the North Port City Commission.
By September 2017, crews had started preparatory studies and surveys of the site. On September 1, 2017, the Braves announced Mike Dunn as the new Vice President of Florida Operations. Dunn will oversee development of the new spring-training complex. On October 16, 2017, local officials and team executives formally broke ground on the site of the planned $100 million stadium complex. Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz welcomed a crowd of more than 100 fans, residents and local elected officials as new “friends and neighbors” to the team during a short opening ceremony in the sweltering heat.
Sarasota-based Tandem Construction and Southfield, MI based Barton Malow is in charge of project. The construction schedule was to complete at least the stadium in time for when pitchers and catchers report to camp in February 2019. However, on January 31, 2018 it was accounned that the Braves they would extend their lease with Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports through April 2019 “to ensure there is enough time to complete” the new facility. The team said it will hold 2019 spring training at Disney with the exception of playing its final home game that spring at the new facility.
In June 2018, 30% of the construction was complete. The seats themselves and the scoreboard are scheduled to be installed in late October or early November, said Mike Dunn, vice president and director of Florida operations for the Braves. Between now and then, construction will progress through several milestones such as the completion of the locker rooms, which will be outfitted by North Port-based Adams Group.
On December 4, 2018, North Port announced a 20-year stadium naming-rights deal with CoolToday, a local air conditioning, heating, plumbing and electrical services company, in which the park's name was unveiled: CoolToday Park.
As the stadium neared completion the costs for the project had increased to $140 million. Since the October 2017 groundbreaking, about 350 workers each day have labored to have the stadium ready for its first and only spring game of 2019, a March 24 Braves exhibition contest against the Tampa Bay Rays. Before the Braves make the move to North Port for the March game, the team will train at its usual venue at the Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, then end its 22-year run at the Disney World complex.
CoolToday Park features 6,200 fixed seats that can accommodate up to 8,000, including the berm and standing room, team clubhouse, training facilities, a half-dozen practice baseball fields, six multi-use fields and space for the team's sports medicine academy. The complex is envisioned to become the heart of a planned "town center" commercial and residential district that will create opportunities for the college and nearby medical practices to partner with the team and its affiliates.
The stadium itself sits on the north end of the tract, just south of the site of a planned new elementary and middle school campus. A public plaza area abutting West Villages Parkway is planned and will be used as special event space when the team is not in town. Practice fields and multi-use fields cover the southern and eastern portions of the 70 to 75 acres. The multi-use fields will be used as grass parking to expand capacity during spring training and as public fields for the new schools or new tournaments. The team's sports medicine, fitness and physical therapy academy also will have a new home on the site, which officials hope to integrate with programs at the nearby college campus and with area physicians.
The ballpark incorporates several familiar facets from other Grapefruit League facilities. The clubhouse behind the right field fence is reminiscent of Charlotte Sports Park. An outfield grandstand is similar to Bradenton’s LECOM Park. The berm in left field is common to many spring training facilities. The ballpark has a left-field tiki bar, as does the Phillies’ Spectrum Field in Clearwater.
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