A ceremonial groundbreaking was held recently near the future site of the Collier County amateur sports complex, located off City Gate Drive, near State Route 951 and the I-75 interchange.
The facility will contain a 135,000 square-foot field house that can be used for community events, a covered stadium with expandable seating for 3,500 to 7,000 spectators, eight multipurpose playing fields and another eight fields that will either be multipurpose or softball fields that can be converted for baseball, said Nick Casa- languida, Collier County’s deputy county manager. There will also be a 14-acre lake witha3½-miletrackaroundthelakeand the entire park, and spaces on the grounds for the community to gather.“Those are phases one and two and for phase three, we’re going to see how successful those phases are and we may consider expanding even more,” he added. Sports travel, particularly amateur competitions, is one of the U.S. tourism industry’s fastest growing segments, generating billions of dollars in spending annually.
Aside from golf tournaments, Collier County is already home to two major amateur sporting events, the annual Minto US Open Pickleball Championships, and the All American Games’ youth football FBU National Championships tournament, which has been based in the county for four years.
The facilities would also be available for use by local amateur sports organizations.
At the press conference that preceded the groundbreaking, Collier County Manager Leo Ochs said that the success of the FBU tourney led the county to start investigating expanding its sports marketing and sports tourism opportunities about one year ago.
“We have a world-class community, great weather, really all of the elements you need to be competitive in this market,” he said. “The one thing we felt we were lacking was a world-class facility. And to the great credit of the county commissioners, they gave us the green light to go out and explore opportunities. Today we stand here waiting to break ground on a 60-acre sports complex that we believe, that when it’s all said and done, will be one of the best in the country, if not the best.”
Ochs also lauded Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau and Casalanguida for their integral roles in making the complex a reality.
Construction is expected to begin in the spring and be completed 14 to 24 months later.
“Perhaps in the next 18 months, we can have part of the facility open and begin to hold some events out there,” said Ochs after the press conference.
To pay for the complex, the increase in the county’s bed tax from four to five percent that the commissioners approved in 2016. The tax is levied overnight stays at hotels and short-term rentals.
Doug Berman, chairman and CEO of the FBU National Championships’ parent organization, All American Games, said the tournament has grown dramatically over the last four years, from 12 qualifying teams of sixth through eighth graders from around the country, to 42 teams this year.
The sports complex will eliminate the need to schedule games at various sites around the county and hopefully provide the tournament with a forever home, he added.
“Just like Williamsport is known as the home of the Little League World Series, we want youth football people to think of Collier County and Naples in the same way,” said Berman. “A great facility like this can really be an anchor, rather than being at all the high schools and working around those schedules and we’ll have a state-of-the-art stadium so that the finals of the events can be televised.”