Monday, October 23, 2017

Collier approves bed tax; sports complex in East Naples


A proposed sports complex in eastern Collier County is one step closer to reality.

Collier Commissioners voted unanimously to approve increasing the county’s hotel tax by one percent, part of which will go toward funding the facility.

The complex, which will be built in two phases on adjoining parcels of land near Collier Boulevard and Interstate 75, will cost an estimated $60 to $80 million.

“We plan to make this an active park, running trails, the facility will probably have some sort of training facility open to the public,” deputy county manager Nick Casalanguida said. “They’ll have a world class premier facility they can use.”

The exact design and layout of the complex is still yet to be determined, but the complex is expected to have running and jogging trails, along with turf fields for sports like football, lacrosse, and soccer, and baseball and softball diamonds. There are also plans for an indoor stadium or field house which would allow use rain or shine.

While the primary draw of the complex will be to bring in tournaments and travel-related sporting events, county officials are adamant that this is a facility for residents as well, something which doomed discussions on a Spring Training facility for the Atlanta Braves in 2016.

“I want to make sure this is a facility our kids can use. As much as we want to use it for sports tourism and generating revenue, equally important I think are our kids,” Commissioner Andy Solis said.

As part of the cost, the project will include the purchase of a portion of the land in the area called City Gate, estimated at about $12 million. The City Gate site is adjacent to county owned land which will contain the second phase of the complex, but will require special permitting from the state which will take additional time.

The first phase of the complex could open as early as the beginning of 2021.

The county expects to put $3.75 million of the estimated $5.25 million annually the one percent tax increase would raise into paying for the complex. The county expects to raise $55 million in bonds with that funding.

The rest of the cost would come from the county’s general funds or short-term debt, and through selling naming rights on the facility. Casalanguida cited corporate sponsorship for the pickleball courts in East Naples Community Park, site of the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, as an example.

Hoteliers and youth groups came to lend their support to the county’s decision to approve the complex.

“Our members are in favor of the sports complex,” said Randy Smith, President of the Collier County Lodging and Tourism Alliance. “We think it will add a nice, new additional type of tourist to our area.”

In a study funded by the county, Hunden Strategic Partners estimated the county would see an economic impact of $468 million over 20 years, with around a quarter of that, $132 million, being spent at hotels.

Franklin, Tennessee-based Chartwell Hospitality owns two hotels, Fairfield Inn & Suites and Spring Hill Suites in the City Gate area. Regional manager Dennis Barber said the companies’ Nashville properties saw huge benefits from the development of youth hockey after the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators started operations.

“We are very excited to have this potential development,” Barber said. “One of our (Nashville) hotels does 1,000 rooms a year for youth-related travel. Travel is a huge economic impact generator, and we know it.”

Youth programs like Football University National Championships, which have been played in Naples since 2014, say the new facility is needed as demands have stretched many of the area’s facilities to capacity.

“As we have grown this Football University National Championship event over the last four years, it’s now a physical challenge to find enough facilities to play all the games we’re bringing,” said Douglas Berman of All-American Games, which puts on the tournament. Berman said this year the tournament is expected to bring 42 teams and 5,000 people to Naples this winter.

The county expects to close on the City Gate land purchase in January.

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