Melbourne balks at downtown stadium for Manatees


Published:

The Brevard County Manatees are considering leaving Space Coast Stadium in Viera after the Washington Nationals move to West Palm Beach in 2017.

Mike Gaffey

The Washington Nationals are leaving Viera, and the Brevard County Manatees might be right behind them. But a proposal to build a 4,000-seat stadium for the team in downtown Melbourne likely has struck out.

Melbourne City Manager Mike McNees recommended on April 13 that the city abandon further talks with officials from the Manatees about building a stadium on New Haven Avenue, citing problems with buying properties needed for the project.

The proposed stadium, called Harbor City Ballpark, would have occupied a 3 ½-acre lot where a SunTrust Bank once stood.

McNees said owners of two of five parcels of land required to locate the stadium on property between New Haven Avenue and Promenade Park have no intention of selling. Another parcel portion owned by Florida East Coast Railroad must remain as right-of-way for the railroad. And the stadium’s size would encompass part of Melbourne Avenue as well as the Promenade Park boardwalk area between U.S. 1 and the railroad tracks.

“Vacating this property in favor of stadium construction is problematic for a number of reasons,” McNees wrote. “Melbourne Avenue is a highly used collector road.”

McNees noted that the boardwalk was built to connect the waterfront area to downtown, “something a stadium would not accomplish.”

However, McNees recommended that Melbourne continue talks with the Manatees, a Single-A Advanced Florida State League affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, on alternative locations.

“It is my belief that under the partnership structure proposed, the economic benefits to the city and region could be substantial, and that more suitable siting options may exist,” he wrote.

On March 24, City Council members had voted 6-1 —  with Mayor Kathy Meehan dissenting — to start discussions with the team, Melbourne and Brevard County staff members and a South Florida landowner about the stadium project.

At that meeting, business consultant and project leader Mark LaRusso estimated that the stadium would attract 150,000 people downtown and pump about $6 million a year into the local economy. Manatees officials also have offered to pay for half of land-acquisition costs and all stadium operating costs for 25 years.

Since 1994, the Manatees have played home games at the 8,100-seat Space Coast Stadium on Stadium Parkway. But the minor league team may leave Viera for a smaller venue after the Washington Nationals move in 2017 to a new West Palm Beach stadium they’ll share with the Houston Astros, who are leaving Kissimmee.

“Quite frankly, it’s a very big, expensive facility for a minor league team to take care of,” Manatees general manager Kyle Smith said. The team currently is “looking at our options going forward to try to find a long-term home here in Brevard,” he added.

The property between New Haven Avenue and Promenade Park is owned by South Florida developer Brandon Lurie, who once planned to build a 159-foot condominium, townhouses, a restaurant and shops at the site. McNees noted that Lurie is “currently working on development options of his own.” 

The Manatees are owned and operated by Central Florida Baseball Group, LLC, which is made up of chairman Dr. Tom Winters, vice chairman Dewight Titus and president Charlie Baumann.

Last year, trustees at Rollins College in Winter Park rejected a plan to build an on-campus stadium that would be home to the Manatees and the Rollins Tars baseball team.