Over the years, Collier County has been approached by both Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves Major League Baseball teams to build spring training facilities. When county leaders decided not to support the concept, we had to trust their wisdom. They realized that our demographics would be better served by building an amateur sports facility. Not only will local sports leagues benefit from this new facility, but Collier County will also become a true sports destination for showcase sports events, as well as, festivals and concerts.
Dubbed the Paradise Coast Sportsplex, the massive sports complex sits in part on a 60-acre plot of land on the northeast corner of Collier Boulevard and I-75. The full scope of the project is ambitious, boasting 19 fields able to accommodate a breadth of sports from football, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, baseball, and others. “With the baseball/softball fields you’ll still have the ability to play soccer or any of those events in the outfield because you’ll have oversized outfields. Potentially a promoter could have 19 fields to use for a soccer or lacrosse event,” explained James Hanrahan, Sports Development Manager working on the project with the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
The site will also feature a 13-acre lake with a beachfront, a food truck area, a market space for visitors to enjoy food and wine, a great lawn with a double-sided jumbotron, a championship stadium with a seating capacity for 3,500 guests, and a fieldhouse that will boast indoor basketball and volleyball courts, locker rooms, coaches’ meeting rooms, offices, cafés to team lounges, and rock climbing walls.
The Sports Council of Collier County has been supportive to the county in this endeavor. Its mission is to grow a network of public and private partnerships that helps provide resources, accessibility and opportunities that encourage individuals and organizations to participate in sports in the community. The vision is to be recognized as a world class sports council that helps to facilitate sports tourism on behalf of the Collier County community.
“The first fields are due to open by next summer, and by 2021 the new complex will enhance current sports facilities making Collier County a very attractive destination for tournaments, and at the same time giving our citizens an opportunity to stay home instead of traveling to compete in a true ‘showcase’ event in any given sport,” said Liz Sanders, President of the Sports Council.
Collier County plans to first open the lake, food truck area and at least four fields to the public – with expectations of unveiling the championship arena and remaining fields later into 2020 and 2021.
With a budget between 80 and 100 million dollars, the facility has been funded by an increase in bed taxes, according to Sanders, with an additional sum coming from bonds provided by the county. Initial planning dates back to around 2016, said Sanders. The approval to purchase 40 additional acres for the site occurred in 2017, and construction was underway not long afterward.
The complex is planned by Collier County to be the centerpiece of the “Innovation Zone,” a vacant area of land consisting of several hundred acres in East Naples, called City Gate around Interstate 75 and Collier Boulevard. By lowering impact fees and permitting costs, the county hopes to attract businesses to the area, bolstering the economic gains brought on by visitors to the brand-new facility.
The CVB is making an ambitious push to attract attention to the facility ahead of its opening, Hanrahan explained in an August 22nd meeting. He plans to attend the Connect-Sports national conference, which offers the opportunity to meet national and international promoters from various sports. Hanrahan hopes to encourage promoters to bring their events and teams to Naples.
“They all have to stay somewhere; they all have to eat somewhere, and most travel teams bring the whole entire family. So, they have to entertain siblings, maybe even grandma and grandpa; which converts to a very positive year-round economic impact for almost every business in town. One team is going to have 15 players or so, which means each team is usually worth at least 50 people, and most tournaments have 75-100 teams. It will be an incredible economic boost,” Sanders said, envisioning a significant increase in business across Naples and all of Collier County upon the facility’s opening.
In addition to the ample number of sports facilities which the competed site will provide by 2021, the complex can also accommodate numerous other events and attractions, including water sports, concert venues and holiday celebrations like Independence Day. “One of the biggest challenges will be for the county to vet each event and figure out what events will be the best for the community – according to many factors; time of year, size of event and even the overall economic impact,” Sanders said.
“This complex is so close to Marco, businesses on the island are all going to benefit,” Sanders added, confident that the proximity of the sports complex site will drive families toward other areas of the county nearly year-round.
“You’re looking at tens of thousands of people there in and out – at capacity,” Hanrahan said, “With our eight fields at North Collier you’re looking at around five to seven thousand people for a tournament. So, when you’re talking about 19 fields, you’re doubling that and then some.”
Hanrahan stated promoters will be provided with travel pamphlets to hand out to their teams as part of their agreement to come to the venue, directing visitors to a wide range of off-site activities and restaurants throughout the county. “It’s not that you’re just coming here to play sports and then you leave, you’re coming here to experience Naples altogether – to experience paradise,” he added.