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East County Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 1 week ago

Manatee County nears Premier Sports Campus purchase

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Manatee County's deal with SMR could be approved at Dec. 7 land use meeting.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Steve Hossfeld never has used the fields at Premier Sports Campus, but he does not object to Manatee County purchasing the 127-acre facility, and an additional 36-acre tract, for $5.2 million.

The deal, offered by Premier’s owner and operator, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, includes a stipulation the county construct an aquatics center on the additional 36 acres within five years.

“I don’t have any kids in the school system, but my taxes go for that and I don’t mind,” said Hossfeld, who spent 30 years in law enforcement. “(A new park) gives people somewhere to go.”

Manatee County commissioners, who moved the deal forward Nov. 28, are expected to approve the deal during their Dec. 7 land-use meeting. About $3.1 million would come from tourist tax dollars, while the remaining $2.1 million would come from impact fees.

Operating the facility,— which ran at a $203,390 deficit  last fiscal year, would come out of reserves for the first year of operation. After that, county commissioners would have to decide the best way to fund it.

“We are in the park business,” Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said. “Twenty years ago there wasn’t anything east of I-75 except cows, and now there are people out there and they would like the same services.”

In its 2017-18 Fiscal Year budget, Manatee County expects a shortfall of $379,000 for its parks programming countywide.

However, the county also has budgeted $6.15 million to take care of the landscaping for more than 50 parks and 40 non-park areas such as beach facilities and county buildings.

The U.S. Paralympic Soccer Team's Seth Jahn shields the ball from a Canadian defender during a July 21 friendly. File photo.

Premier’s current budget lists its groundkeeping with its operating expenses.

Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has suggested the county makes the purchase at $5.2 million and then spends about $800,000 more in tourism tax dollars to construct additional restrooms as well as a multipurpose building. Those additions would reduce expenses for tournament organizers, who now have to set up tents on site and provide additional restrooms.

Premier Sports Campus hosted 15 tournaments, with 22,363 participants during the 2016-2017 fiscal year, generating 18,816 hotel room night stays and an estimated economic impact of $14.1 million as calculated by the CVB.

Projections are even higher for the 2017-2018 season, with 25 tournaments planned. Total participation is estimated at 26,599, with 21,497 room nights and $18.5 million in economic impacts, CVB Executive Director Elliott Falcione said.

Premier already hosts more than 1,400 local participants through partnerships with the Lakewood Ranch Chargers Soccer Club (400 participants), Monsters Lacrosse (350 participants) and i9 Youth Recreational Sports (550 participants in soccer, flag football and cheerleading), among other sports programs.

In 2016, an average of 10 fields were used 340 days of the year. That figure will increase this year to an average of 12 fields used 350 days.

Premier’s Director of Sports Antonio Saviano said the facility is capped in terms of usage, with about 30 days per year reserved for maintenance.

The facility operated at a net loss of about $203,000 last fiscal year.

“There is huge opportunity for this place,” Saviano said. “It’s just getting started, depending on what the plans are going to be.”

East County residents said they support the purchase but worry if the venue can be self-sufficient. They also worry the fields might suffer under the county’s ownership.

“I was scared,” said Panther Ridge’s Michelle Beorlegui. “I’ve seen it as a private organization, and you think maybe the grass won’t look as nice (if it becomes public). But after talking to people about how it’s going to work, the county plans to run it very similar to the way it’s run now, and they have a lot more resources.”

Lakewood Ranch’s Marci Walker agreed.

“They could do so much with the land,” she said. “My son plays (soccer) here. I don’t mind spending my taxpayer dollars.”

The idea of an aquatics center and other facilities was popular among residents, with reservations.

“I do become wary when a developer, controlling a property amassed over 100 years, offers a ‘gift’ to the county that is worth $20 million,” Manatee County’s Mark Barlett said. “SMR is an entity that embraces profit. What is SMR looking for in the long run? What are the caveats?”

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