By Eric Schmidt

Southwest Florida already is the home to three major league baseball teams during spring training. With the move by the Boston Red Sox from downtown Fort Myers to the outskirts of Lee County his season, the City of Palms Park is left without an occupant, an occupant which the park was built for in the first place in 1993. The Red Sox, a staple in Lee County since 1993, demanded a new shrine built on their behalf in order to remain in Lee County. Local officials conceded and a new stadium was built for the Red Sox, Jet Blue Park, a facility which was sold out for every event this spring training season.

However, the City of Fort Myers is now left with the City of Palms Park, a great baseball venue with nothing waiting in the wings for utilization in the future. There has been discussion this spring training season that the park might become the home of the Washington Nationals in the near future. Discussion has evolved in the area about whether or not the local area could support yet another team in this area during spring training. I think it could, without a doubt.

I have lived in Fort Myers my entire life and I have seen the impact that baseball has on our area. Days after pitchers and catchers report, traffic flow increases significantly. Spring training brings an enormous amount of traffic to this local area, and despite current discussions, the addition of yet another team in the Fort Myers area would continue to increase the tourism traffic. The downtown, “entertainment” district of the City of Fort Myers has suffered after the loss of the Boston Red Sox during spring training. The addition of the Washington Nationals would fuel the never ending revitalization process which surrounds the area.

Why are the Washington Nationals looking for a new location? They are based currently in Viera, Florida. Viera is sandwiched between Titusville and Melbourne, a region which places Cape Canaveral squarely in the middle of the region. With the closing of NASA’s venture and the Space Shuttle program, the region is going to become less of a tourist destination.

The largest sticking point by the Boston Red Sox with their former location, City of Palms Park, was that the practice fields were 2 miles away from the actual spring training field. Several options have been proposed for City of Palms park, including turning the location into a swim facility. It is a baseball park, and it should remain as such. The city should consider purchasing property surrounding the stadium for a reduced rate than turning the stadium into something other than what it is, a baseball field.

David Dorsey of the News-Press had a great piece this morning regarding the possible addition of the Washington Nationals to the roster of regional spring training baseball teams. The paper shows that Washington, D.C. is only the 19th rated area which generates tourism traffic to this area.

The Boston Red Sox, according to numbers, have sold out 129 of 130 spring training games since moving to the Southwest Florida area and the Minnesota Twins have drawn over 105,000 visitors this spring training with two more games to go.

The City of Fort Myers spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year trying to find a way to increase traffic to the area, adding the Washington Nationals to the City of Palms Park is a no brainer. It’s a the only investment that has the highest rate of return potential from any other offer that has been proposed.

The News-Press illustrates, based on Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau that only 28,838 visitors come to the region from Washington during the spring training period. That number will significantly increase with the addition on the Washington Nationals. Get this deal done. The Washington Nationals are an up and coming team. After spending millions on the new Red Sox shrine, adding the Washington Nationals to their former field is a no-brainer.



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