As baseball fever hits Tampa Bay, are sports facilities worth the cost?

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As baseball fever spreads throughout Tampa Bay, the debate continues whether spending millions of dollars on stadiums and sports facilities actually provide municipalities an economic benefit.

Governments and developers in Tampa Bay are currently considering several such deals — with at least four proposals that, when combined, could cost as much as $80 million.

Among the deals in the work are a vast 19-field baseball complex in Pasco County, two indoor facilities for basketball/volleyball and a soccer complex, writes Michael Sasso of the Tampa Tribune.

At the same time, communities nationwide are spending $15 million to $25 million on youth sports facilities, with the hope that it will attract teams, parents and jobs.

What happens when a city builds a stadium, and no teams show up?

One year after the opening of the $7 million dollar Nations Park in Newberry, the stadium was host to only two major tournaments, with a third coming up. The mayor now accuses the developer of misleading the city, and the mostly-empty field has transformed into a campaign issue.

Newberry may not be the only case, since communities statewide are considering building new sports facilities.

As Clearwater-based sports consultant Dev Pathik tells the Tribune, “I can’t think of anyone that’s not.”

Mayor Bill Conrad recalls the excitement when the plans for Nations Park came to Newberry five years ago, a town of only 5,000 people, in the form of Lou Presutti, the person who built and owns Cooperstown Dreams Park in upstate New York.

The town hall meeting was packed. When asked who wanted to bring baseball to the town, every hand went up.

Only two tournaments in a year are not exactly what the city expected, even though Presutti insists that it takes a “three- to four-hear ramp-up period” to become successful.

Several sports experts predict Newberry is an isolated incident, while a few say it is a lack of marketing that is the heart of the problem.

When factoring in fees – as much as $25,000 to $50,000 — to hold a tournament, it is common for a city to struggle to break even. And in those cases, when tourists spend money locally is the only benefit a community will see.

Although the jury is still out on the success of the Nations Field, it has not stopped several other jurisdictions to adopt new sporting facilities—including Newberry itself, which is considering a second facility, this time an indoor volleyball/basketball “field house.” In addition, a number of Newberry city leaders believe Nations Park will take off.

But not everyone.

Newberry City Commission candidates are taking sides on the issue.

Candidate Jason McGehee tells the Tribune that although people are surprised by the slow start of Nations Field, others still have faith in the project, as long as they can find the right people to market it properly.

“We bought a really shiny sports car,” McGehee said, “and we don’t have anyone to drive it.”

 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.