By Steve “Stef” Stefanides
Over the last almost two years the Board of Collier County Commissioners has been moving forward on evaluating the need and details surrounding the construction of a major sports facility within Collier County. On June 13 they met in a joint meeting with the Tourist Development Council to discuss issues such as funding and how to move forward.
That need in part has arisen from the overtaxing of present facilities located within the county and an interest by some past members of the commission to move towards a more diversified economic foundation for the county; one which does not solely rely upon real estate, the building industry and just beach tourism.
In mid-2015 commissioners directed County Manager Leo Ochs to look at the feasibility of adding sports tourism as a possible additional leg to the county’s economic base. The county’s environment, the proximity to major transportation and highways and an existing infrastructure to deal with tourists, housing and other support were all seen as major pluses. Ochs would appoint Deputy County Manager Nick Casalanguida as point man for that project.
The county also hired Hunden Strategic Partners to look at the Collier County marketplace and existing facilities around the county. The study came back in a positive regards to what Collier County has to offer, but pointed out the overtaxed infrastructure regarding fields and support of those facilities. They did point to the potential for the North Collier Regional Park as a perfect location for expansion and the room to develop an adequate facility with additional fields and possible indoor facilities.
After holding public hearings it became evident that the location in North Collier was not acceptable to the residents of the area and the county began to look elsewhere. At the same time the county flirted with the idea of another approach by the Atlanta Braves to locate a facility here. That proposal would ultimately fail due to lack of support.
Recognizing the potential that might be found within the sports tourism industry, the board of commissioners authorized the hiring of an individual as Deputy Tourism Director with a concentration on sports tourism.
After reviewing at least three more sites for viability the county staff came to the conclusion that the area near City Gate, which is located just north of the I-75 interchange and to the east of 951 (Collier Boulevard), held the most potential. This may require the acquisition of private property that is presently owned by City Gate itself and adjacent to presently owned county land.
Staff Presents a Plan
Late in March the staff presented a plan to the commissioners regarding possible financing for a development. The county is looking at a wide range of options, some of which include phasing the project over several years. This would account for some of the permitting that would be required through several agencies on the land that is owned by the county, but allow them to proceed on the land to be acquired.
At the meeting on June 13 Casalanguida would report that the county has been exploring a number of options in regards to management of such a facility, to include a public private management of the facilities, but cautioned that those options were all still on the table.
He would also recommend a “construction manager at risk” style project. This would involve soliciting a design firm to provide the county a set of construction documents for a project with a “Guaranteed Maximum Price,” based upon the criteria provided to them by the county. A contractor would then be solicited who would work directly for the county and he would be required to bring the project in at that cost or below. All of this based upon the details as created by the design firm for the guaranteed maximum price.
How To Pay For It
For a considerable time now the debate has centered around the potential of raising the Tourist Tax, which presently is set at 4% on hotel rooms and short term rentals within the county. County staff has suggested a rise to 5% on that tax, which has caused some to question that method.
The Tourist Development Council, which makes recommendations regarding the expenditures of those dollars, has had some members hesitant to openly support that concept.
Their hesitation lies in fear of losing potential funding for beach re-nourishment should the economy falter as it did in 2008, impacting tourism and the subsequent flow of tourist tax dollars.
Despite any concerns, the vote was unanimous on June 13 to support raising the tax from 4% to 5%, as the county inches forward on their plans for the sports complex. The distribution of those monies, if later approved by ordinance has not been decided however.
Those tax dollars are distributed between beach and inlet maintenance, tourism promotion and the support of local county museums.
A final debate has yet to be held by the Tourist Development Council on a distribution formula for those dollars. It will first come before the TDC for their recommendation to the commissioners for their final vote on the matter.