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East County Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 1 year ago

Don't be timid plotting Premier's future

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Last July, I walked into the new Premier Sports Campus stadium and looked over at the thing any former sportswriter would check out first.

The press box.

All the facilities added at the stadium are, indeed, beautiful. The press box, however, is dinky.

It wasn’t surprising, since dinky press boxes are a common mistake made by the builders of small stadiums all over the country. Press box is a misnomer because its purpose often is unrelated to the number of media members on hand to cover an event. It often houses officials, judges, coaches, public address announcers and so forth.

When I, as a former sports junkie, look over all those pristine Premier Sports Campus fields, I see a big upside in the future. I see some pretty important national soccer events happening right here in our Lakewood Ranch backyard. I see the need for a much bigger press box.

I guess that’s dreaming big.

Perhaps our Manatee County commissioners are doing a balancing act between dreaming big and being fiscally responsible now as they try to get a handle on Premier’s future. I get it. Bigger press boxes are expensive.

So are Olympic-sized swimming pools, softball fields, pickleball courts or horseshoe pits that are built to attract the attention of the best players in the country.

It all takes some serious planning if it is going to be accomplished. Or it takes serious planning if any such notions are scrapped.

The East County Observer ran a story last week in which our commissioners commented on their vision for the future of Premier Sports Campus. The consensus seemed to be they wanted to wait and see how the county would do running the existing facility, which operated at a $200,000 deficit in the past year.

My hope is that our commissioners and our county staff don’t get timid as they move forward. Lakewood Ranch was built on the bold moves of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch in creating one of the nation’s top-selling communities.

That doesn’t mean I am hoping for a smaller version of Grand Park, the 400-acre, city-owned, multiuse sports facility that attracts 1.5 million visitors a year to Westfield, Ind. The mayor of Westfield, Andy Cook, is on record as saying his facility is not a park, but a business in the industry of travel team and family sports. It is designed to attract new businesses to the area.

Lakewood Ranch doesn’t need to provide any more incentives to attract business. SMR has done the heavy lifting.

That being said, Premier is 163 acres with the chance to be 53 acres bigger if the county wants to purchase that land from SMR, and the sky is the limit. When planning the future of any addition to the park, think “world class.” Please don’t build a dinky pool.

Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Manatee County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said there is no long-term intent to expand Premier’s footprint or build other facilities to promote sports tourism. That’s troublesome. He said in the Observer, “I don’t see the government looking to enhance what we already have.”

The “we” of us in East County might disagree. We want attractions and amenities to rival the beaches. We want to dream big.

Hopefully, people were listening when Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said, “The center of (the county’s) gravity is moving east.”

Because here in the east, some of us want a bigger press box.

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