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Fields of Dreams

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Seminole County’s new 15-field Sports Complex opens in May, bringing tens of millions of dollars in local economic impact this year alone

Seminole County’s new 15-field Sports Complex opens in May, bringing tens of millions of dollars in local economic impact this year alone

Seminole County Commissioner Brenda Carey is one of those rare long-time residents who remembers when an eastbound trip down Lake Mary Boulevard ended abruptly at the Naval Air Station in Sanford, which would not become the Sanford Airport (now Orlando Sanford International Airport) until 1969. East of that air station, there was nothing but acres and acres of groves. So, it’s understandable that Brenda, who moved to Sanford in 1957, would be particularly excited about what has become of that 100-acre grove.

On the evening of May 13, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will mark the grand opening of the spectacular $27-million Seminole County Sports Complex, and even though the first pitch has yet to be thrown, it is already a smashing success.

“In the first eight months, we’ve already exceeded our expectations of what we anticipated for the first year,” Commissioner Carey says, describing the amount of business that has been booked at the  complex to host sports tournaments and other events. “The history of our commission is to plan conservatively and hope for the best. If things turn out better than we thought, that’s great. We’d rather have a nice surprise [than a disappointment].”

The state-of-the-art complex will feature 15 sports fields, nine of which are rectangular in shape with artificial turf and can be converted from baseball/softball fields to soccer/lacrosse/football fields. The complex also features energy-efficient LED lighting systems, parking for more than 900 vehicles, a playground, a picnic area, concession and office buildings, batting cages and bullpens, and spectator bleachers with shade covers.

More than a month before opening day, the complex had already been booked for 38 events over the first 30 weekends, with an anticipated 122,000 athletes and spectators coming here for events ranging from local to national tournaments in baseball, softball, soccer, and lacrosse.

“When we first started building it, we thought we’d probably have maybe 65,000 athletes and spectators in the first year, with about a $10 million impact,” Brenda says. “Instead, it looks like we will have an impact of more than $50 million in the first eight months, including 36,000 room-nights at local hotels. The impacts are just huge. So we’re really excited about it, and we’re really looking forward to it.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony will precede a 90-team USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association) youth baseball tournament, which will bring hundreds of young athletes and their families to Seminole County and will last throughout the weekend. In all, for 2016, the Seminole County Sports Complex will host 23 youth baseball tournaments, nine girls’ fast-pitch softball tournaments, three adult slow-pitch tournaments, two youth soccer tournaments, and one youth lacrosse tournament.
“Surprisingly, 28 percent of these are local tournaments,” Brenda says. “The county believes it is important that this new facility not only be available for statewide and national visiting events, but also to our local community groups. We are working with Seminole County Public Schools and other local community event organizers to ensure they are familiar with the complex and the opportunities to utilize the fields for local tournaments and community events.”

The idea for the Seminole County Sports Complex first came about almost 10 years ago. Shortly after talks began, the project was put on hold during the economic downturn. As the economy recovered, talks resumed around 2013, and by April 2015, construction began on the complex.

The project emerged after years of collaborative discussions by the County Commission, which recognized the financial opportunities presented by the booming sports tourism industry. According to the National Association of Sports Commissions, 25.65 million sports visitors (including participants and spectators) spent $8.96 billion in 2014.

“People don’t realize what a big business sports tourism is,” Brenda says. “It’s a multi-billion dollar industry.”

With the opening of the Seminole County Sports Complex, our local community can now grab a piece of that pie, and no one is happier to see this project come to fruition than Brenda.

“We looked all over the county to find this place,” she says. “You know, it’s not easy to find 100 available acres anywhere in Seminole County. We looked at about 10 potential sites, and for a lot of reasons, this one made the most sense. All the people involved in this process have done a great job. We really did our homework to make sure this was what the industry was looking for. And our expectations were exceeded… and then some.”

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