Ballard Partners inks Washington Nationals amid West Palm Beach stadium land deal

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Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals have opted to retain Ballard Partners to represent them in Tallahassee this legislative session as the club navigates a tricky land proposal requiring city, county and state cooperation.

The Nats — along with the Houston Astros, who have also hired Ballard — are pursuing a delicate and process-intensive initiative that would redesignate a tract of Palm Beach County land currently protected by Florida’s Water Catchment Act in order to build a joint spring training facility there.

The land was recently swapped to the county in exchange for 1.8 acres of downtown West Palm Beach that now belongs to the city, according to the terms of a WPB-PBC interlocal deal recently struck by the municipalities. But there’s still the matter of an easement on the property, plus a 450-foot statutory buffer zone surrounding the 143-acre tract, which was once a landfill.

The 1967 catchment act provides that certain ecologically vulnerable bodies of water — like the canal that drains to tap water sources less than a tenth of a mile from the proposed site — be surrounded by a substantial buffer of land. For the project to move forward, the Florida Legislature would have to make an amendment to this provision. That would free up about 27 acres to be used for parking, which the teams’ front offices say is a necessary condition for building the facility.

Ballard and his clients wouldn’t be the first major tourism-driving players to have environmental restrictions relaxed during the Scott administration, but with this session’s purported focus on water quality and state lands issues, they face an unusual legislative climate.

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, who is also working with the MLB teams on the land deal, says the goal of both the ball clubs and the local governments funding their project is to break ground this summer, pending the approval of amendatory language this session. They hope to play their spring baseball in Palm Beach in 2017.

This is now the fifth Major League Baseball team repped by Ballard Parnters. In addition to the Nationals, the firm represents the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, and the Toronto Blue Jays. Ballard also represents the Daytona International Speedway, and David Beckham.

Ballard was the Florida finance chair for presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney.

During the 2014 legislative session, Ballard lobbied successfully for a bill to set up an equitable process by which sports franchises can apply for state sales tax refunds in order to help pay for stadium construction.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.