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East County Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 2 months ago

Manatee County plans Premier improvements in Lakewood Ranch

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Visitors Bureau believes upgrades will stimulate revenue for the facility.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

In an effort to improve the customer experience and boost tourism in the area, the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau seeks to expand facilities at Premier Sports Campus.

Premier Sports Campus was acquired by Manatee County in 2017. It includes about 140 acres with 23 multipurpose fields for soccer and other sports. Courtesy photo.

During a workshop Aug. 13, the organization’s executive director, Elliott Falcione, requested $8.5 million for parking improvements and a 4,000-square-foot multipurpose building that will include additional restrooms, a concession area and locker rooms to accommodate four teams.

Parking enhancements would include 429 more parking spaces and designated areas for employee, VIP and handicap parking and a drop-off loop and bus turn-around to improve traffic flow.

Falcione said the changes would improve the customer experience at Premier, enhance the facility’s brand and ultimately allow the CVB to attract collegiate-level tournaments and events.

Funding for the improvements would come solely from tourism-tax dollars, not from the county’s general revenues, though some commissioners still questioned whether so much money should be spent on the project and asked for more specifics on the return-on-investment.

Premier still is operating annually at a loss; revenues cover about 70% of operations. And although the commissioners said the improvements sounded good, they wanted to know how the changes could improve those

figures.

“You’re trying to take Premier to the next level,” Vanessa Baugh, Manatee County’s District 5 Commissioner said. “Premier is a gem. We need to continue it. We just need to make sure we’re doing it in a good way.”

Commissioner Carol Whitmore wasn’t worried and said she welcomed the improvements.

“We know Premier brings people from all over the world,” she said. “We’ve got a way to fund it. Tourists are paying for all of it.”

Falcione said he will provide more analysis of the return-on-investment before commissioners are expected to make a decision about it, along with presenting plans for improvements to the Bradenton Area Convention Center in October.

Falcione said he believes the changes at Premier are needed to help diversify its offerings and to work toward a sustainable business model.

“I’m not ready to say we will be sustainable,” he said. “We’re trying to fill the gap.”

Sean Walter, the senior manager for the CVB’s Bradenton Area Sports Commission, said the addition of locker rooms at Premier would allow for the CVB to bid on Division 2 and Division 3 boys and girls soccer and lacrosse championships. There would be three to four per year for each sport with multiple-year agreements for events in the fall and early winter seasons.

“We also would be able to bid on [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes] championships,” he said.

U.S. Soccer also requires locker rooms for team training.

U.S. Soccer hosted its Nike Friendlies International Showcase at Premier last November. Walter said it pays more than $200,000 for tents for its staff during the event. Having the multipurpose building would cut that cost to about $50,000.

“We are one of the only facilities that U.S. Soccer uses to host its large events that does not have a building to use for a staff headquarters or with air-conditioned training rooms,” Walter said.

He said other types of collegiate events could include rugby tournaments in May, during the off-season.

Falcione said the target timeline is to see final approvals from commissioners in late October, begin the bidding and construction processes and have the project completed by March 2021.

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