LAKEWOOD RANCH — Lakewood Ranch’s creators already have cast a vision to bring a world-class sports training complex to the community. But could the area also become host to amateur soccer tournaments and other sports activities?
Rex Jensen, president and CEO of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, said his company is beginning to develop plans for an amateur sports complex on land bordering the Lakewood Ranch Post Office.
Preliminary renderings include about 24 soccer fields, which would be used primarily for large tournament play, and parking. The addition of baseball and softball fields and a concession stand would be a more long-term project.
“I think we could really make our mark,” Jensen said of the concept. “It’s good advertising not only for Lakewood Ranch but (also) the whole (area).”
Jensen said he currently envisions the facility being used by outside athletic teams — not for regular local league play — but even that concept could change. Regardless, Jensen said he feels the project could be an economic draw for the area and promote the development of more retail businesses and even possibly a few limited service hotels.
“This strikes me as something that could help (stimulate the economy),” Jensen said. “If we can do it for the right kind of investment, I don’t think I want to wait that long (to get it started).”
The announcement about the complex comes just weeks after Hubbard Entertainment’s proposal for a Lakewood Ranch bowling alley fell into foreclosure.
How quickly the amateur complex will be developed is still to be determined. Jensen said SMR has yet to obtain cost estimates for the project or what requirements there may be for permitting. However, if everything proves favorable, he’d like to see the first phase of the project — the soccer fields — finished sometime this year.
Jensen said SMR developed the idea for the amateur sports complex when it began negotiations to bring a $110 million sports, spa and training complex called Springbok Academy to the easternmost end of Lakewood Ranch. SMR and the developers of the Springbok project — Corvus International, Iowa Sports Management and Johan Kriek Tennis — had talked about such an endeavor, but the idea has not really been pursued until now.
“I’ve kind of held off on waiting,” he said. “We have thousands of acres left. You have to think about what gives some area for being. Something to foster amateur sports makes good sense.
“The idea is not a high-end exclusive thing (like Springbok), but something that is accessible to the average citizen,” he said.
Jensen said SMR has some experience in constructing sports fields, citing that one of SMR’s first endeavors on the Ranch was the construction of the Sarasota Polo Club and its fields. The company also partnered with Manatee County and the Manatee County School Board to construct soccer fields for Lakewood Ranch Park at Lakewood Ranch High School.
The property being considered for the project roughly forms an upside-down “L” shape stretching to the north and east around the post office site.
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