Manatee County will sink funds into temporary parking fix at Premier Sports Campus.
Brandon’s Erica Clough said she hadn’t seen a muddy parking mess such as she encountered Sept. 2 at Premier Sports Campus in more than 10 years of driving to youth sporting events.
During the Sept. 1-3 Tampa Bay Labor Day Tournament, more than 30 vehicles had to be towed out of the mud.
“The mud had to be 3 to 4 inches deep,” Clough said. “The smaller cars couldn’t get out of that. I’ve never seen parking this unorganized and crazy.
“It was a great tournament and they have these great fields, but they need to get control of the parking. It rains almost every day in Florida. It’s crazy they don’t have gravel or something.”
The Lakewood Ranch Chargers, who were the tournament hosts, and the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which operates the facility, knew parking could become a problem as they headed into the tournament. The area had received rain daily for two weeks straight and the tournament was going to host 200 teams.
By the night of Aug. 31 — the day before the tournament’s start — Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau officials had notified their shuttle services contractor to be on standby. The night of Sept. 1, officials closed the northernmost parking area and had teams use bus and shuttle services from Lakewood Ranch Park to Premier. The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau hired four shuttles while the Chargers hired six buses.
However, late-arriving parents felt they didn’t have the time to make it to the fields if they had to use a shuttle, so they tried their luck at the muddy lot.
Those who tried to park on-site were sinking, literally.
“When we had to shut down that (northern) parking area, we realized the show must go on, but we wanted to make sure everybody was safe and having fun,” said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We worked through it. We’re all professionals here. If a car gets stuck (during one of our events), we’re going to take care of it.”
Falcione said the bureau plans to install shell in the parking area to correct the problem, at least temporarily.
“We expect to see rain over the next month or so. We’re going to shell those areas, and that will prevent that kind of problem,” he said.
In terms of a long-term solution, the bureau plans to work with Manatee County on its master plan for the park.
“We want to be responsible how we build out Premier (and its parking),” Falcione said. “Is it asphalt? Is it overflow grass parking? We only need (overflow parking) a half-dozen times a year. We’ll figure that out this fall.”
Manatee County is bidding out the shell work now, and the shell is expected to last six to 12 months, Falcione said.
Jim DiNobile, co-director of the Chargers Soccer Club and director of soccer operations, said there were complaints about the parking situation, but most people “rolled with” it and understood the conditions.
DiNobile said the playing fields weren’t an issue because they have an underground drainage system.
“The fields were magnificent,” DiNobile said. “From that point of view, it was great. I’ve seen Premier Sports Campus evolve, and it just keeps getting better.”
DiNobile said this time of year is challenging for parking at the facility and a solution does need to be figured out. The Chargers may consider the bus and shuttle option for future events.