TALLAHASSEE — The Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays could receive $100 million in taxpayer help for a new spring training home in Palm Beach Gardens, per the latest state negotiations over cash to keep ball clubs training in Florida.
The budget shuffling is another step toward a deal to shore up Florida's East Coast spring training scene. An Astros-Blue Jays move would also solidify the New York Mets' future in Port St. Lucie.
House budget writers on Monday proposed boosting the state cash available for new or improved spring training facilities. The deal would provide $50 million in state money over a 37-and-a-half-year period for stadiums catering to two teams. One-team facilities could qualify for $20 million over 30 years.
Local governments would have to match the state's help. The state would set aside about $3.3 million each year in retention money, starting in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Asked after a Monday meeting if Astros-Blue Jays to Palm Beach Gardens is a done deal, Melbourne Republican Rep. Ritch Workman said, "I think so. I got that impression."
"Two of the franchises that are looking to do a stadium down in southeastern Florida made a proposal that additional funds were necessary," Workman said at the joint House-Senate Finance and Tax conference committee. "So, in order to meet their retention requests by adding more time, hence increasing the bonding authority, they were able to get the dollars they need to build their facilities."
With both chambers in agreement, the spring training cash is all-but-certain to show up in the final budget lawmakers will vote on next week. Keeping spring training strong in Florida also has been a priority for Gov. Rick Scott, whose veto pen gets the final say over budget items.
Brian Ballard, a lobbyist for the Blue Jays and Astros, said the offer by lawmakers meets the two ball clubs' needs.
The $50 million is $10 million higher than lawmakers had previously discussed. The original plan would've drawn out payments over a 30-year period. While there would be extra money available, it would take seven and a half years longer to get a full payout from the state.
Sen. Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican budget chairman, told Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers two weeks ago he was pursuing more money for an Astros-Blue Jays deal.
Currently, four teams train on Florida's east coast. That's a critical number to maintain for St. Lucie County. In their contract, the Mets can leave if three or fewer teams train nearby. So can the St. Louis Cardinals, who train in Jupiter.
Giles Kibbe, general counsel for the Astros, has said a stadium in Palm Beach Gardens featuring two teams could have a $110 million to $130 million impact yearly. The Astros are looking at an 82-acre site between Central Boulevard and Interstate 95 in Palm Beach Gardens valued at $2.7 million. The spot is just four miles south of Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, home to the Cardinals and Miami Marlins each spring.
The latest spring training project — the Boston Red Sox's new JetBlue Park in Fort Myers — cost Lee County $77.8 million in 2012 for land and construction, according to the Lee County website.
Astros owner Jim Crane already has a stake in the community. He also owns the Floridian golf club on the Martin-St. Lucie county line.
Out of Florida's 15 spring training clubs, three have leases up for renewal in 2016 and two are up in 2017. The Washington Nationals in Viera, Astros in Kissimmee, Detroit Tigers in Lakeland and Blue Jays in Dunedin are currently negotiating leases or looking to move. Six teams have ditched Florida for Arizona since 1998. Crane has confirmed that the Blue Jays could join the Astros in Palm Beach Gardens.
Workman said it's a mobility issue, since teams are spread out across the state.
"You can't make your stars drive so far," Workman said. "These outliers, whenever they play the Yankees, their stars don't come. I hate that, but that's a fact."
Florida already struck agreements to reward 10 Major League Baseball squads that train in Florida over 15- to 30-year periods. Local governments have received almost $43 million of the $122 million the state promised for stadium assistance.