Even in tight economic times, sports are still big business—and we’re not talking about professional sports, either. While Major League baseball supporters continued to spin their wheels last spring in an attempt to lure the Baltimore Orioles to Ed Smith Stadium, several new regional boutique sports initiatives were already taking off, creating construction jobs, full-time administration positions, and even giving a shot in the arm to surrounding retailers—thanks to the thousands of athletes and supporters they attracted. The U.S. Soccer Development Academy spring showcase, for example, brought 70 teams of teenage soccer players and their families from 29 states to the Polo Club at Lakewood Ranch in late May. Talk about a kick in the economy.
While Major League baseball supporters continued to spin their wheels last spring in an attempt to lure the Baltimore Orioles to Ed Smith Stadium, several new regional boutique sports initiatives were already taking off, creating construction jobs, full-time administration positions, and even giving a shot in the arm to surrounding retailers—thanks to the thousands of athletes and supporters they attracted. The U.S. Soccer Development Academy spring showcase, for example, brought 70 teams of teenage soccer players and their families from 29 states to the Polo Club at Lakewood Ranch in late May. Talk about a kick in the economy.
Here’s a roundup of new athletic happenings.
An enormous borrow pit created 30 years ago by the construction of I-75 has potential to become one of the finest rowing courses in the country. Now a 400-acre freshwater lake off
Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau sports manager Jason Puckett says the three-day event produced an estimated $1,760,085 of economic impact to the county with an estimated overall attendance of 14,178 people.
“We own the Holiday Inn [Lakewood Ranch] right now,” says Ralph Egues, a parent from Miami Belen Jesuit, a small
Participants say restaurants were as packed as the hotels, and the Super Target at
“The best thing is these people aren’t just staying overnight, they are here for four or five days,” says Daniel Beery, a gold medal rower in the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics who was at the event as a consultant. “And these are typically people with some serious disposable income, too.”
The lake and rowing center have the potential to breathe life back into Benderson’s
Future plans for the park include walking, biking and running trails around the lake (a 5K course), construction of one or more boathouses and extending the course to an international length of 2,000 meters in 18 months.
Thousands of people could fly into the
“You have no idea how huge these international regattas are, they can take over a town, especially in a nice city like this,” Read says. “A lot of times they are in the middle of nowhere, so people will love to come here where there is so much to do.”
“Besides being one of the only freshwater lakes in the country with ideal environmental conditions for this sport, Benderson Park is a natural park and a recreational park that serves the entire community all at the same time,” says Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta. “When you factor in the hotels, restaurants and retail venues available to residents and visitors, I believe we are sitting on a gold mine.”
Another water-based gold mine coming to
The mission of
“It’s important to note we did not ask or require any tax incentives, use of public dollars or ask for new facilities to be built in our consideration,” says executive director Rob Butcher. “We are moving to
Butcher heads up the nonprofit organization, which has seen an 11 percent increase in members in the last year despite the recession. Eighty percent of its $1.5 million budget is generated from member dues; its members’ average age is 46 and has a median income of $100,000. In addition to the current staff of two that will be relocating, he has already made two new full-time hires here. He expects to have six to eight full-time employees by end of the year and will add employees to meet future business needs. As part of its compensation package, the organization pays for employee health benefits and offers a matching IRA plan. But because it is a nonprofit organization, it depends on volunteers, which is a big reason for the draw to this area.
“You need 150 to 200 volunteers to pull off huge swimming events like the age group swim meet recently hosted at the Sarasota YMCA. That event had 1,100 swimmers in town for three days,” Butcher says. “I’ve advised the Sarasota YMCA, with the facility they have and volunteer base, that they should put together a bid to host future
The brand-new, world-class, 20-court Tennis Gardens at the Longboat Key Club & Resort is another local magnet for sports fans. It hosted the Sarasota Open in May, a $50,000 ATP/USTA men’s challenger event that grabbed the attention of tennis fans with a field that included big names like Taylor Dent and Vincent Spadea. It was a perfect way to showcase the
“The Sarasota Open looks to become the largest economic impact event in the Sarasota-Bradenton area,” explained tournament director Tony Driscoll, who also noted they attracted 1,400-2,500 spectators a day at the tourney.
“A typical ATP Men’s tournament draws 400 to 600 room nights per week to the local economy and an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 patrons both international and domestic,” says Driscoll. “Economic impact will continue to grow as the community becomes more involved with the event and charities associated with it.”
After some setbacks because of opposition from some of its neighbors, Longboat Key Club owners also are planning a scaled-back $400-million expansion, which includes a larger spa, redesign of a golf course and a new hotel and two condominium buildings.
“Tennis is leading the way, but this is only the tip of the iceberg for us,” says Longboat Key Club tennis director John Woods. “Everything else is stagnant right now, and we’re growing. Once word spreads among tennis pros about this facility after the event, we could be looking at a $75,000 to $100,000 challenger next year and the Fed Cup (by BNP Paribas), too.”
Springbok Sports Club and Academy
If you need to get some training in, whether it be for a rec league or the big leagues, there may soon be a closer option for Lakewood Ranch residents than
“Our reach will be global and our approach will be much improved over current sports academy models in the
Morris says they are currently pursuing three different sources of project financing. “We remain confident we will secure the necessary financing, as we have already done for some of the largest projects in
The 110,000-square-foot fitness center will sit on 100 acres of land they are purchasing from Lakewood Ranch. It is on
The sports metropolis will start construction by November, Morris says, with a planned opening in either late 2010 or early 2011. The immediate economic surge will come from all the construction needed to build a facility of this size. When fully operational, the academy will provide permanent jobs for 380 people, with a projected annual payroll of $22 million.
Abunassar is a trainer and former founder and director of the
Academy officials did not respond to requests for interviews. But if the