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County leaders envision $117 million in recreation facility upgrades

Four north county athletic facilities will see major improvements at an estimated cost of $117 million over the next three to seven years.

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  • | 3:40 p.m. April 28, 2021
Softball fields throughout north county will be replaced or reimagined to create better complexes.  File photo
Softball fields throughout north county will be replaced or reimagined to create better complexes. File photo
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Sarasota County leaders are hoping to take a cue from the “Field of Dreams” playbook as they look to revamp north county athletic facilities in the hopes of delivering a sports tourism home run.

Because failing infrastructure and a shortage of facilities, the county is planning a major overhaul of four recreational and youth sports parks. County leaders hope the new project will help fit into a master plan to improve the area’s destination sports complexes, destination playgrounds and sports tourism.

After an analysis by Atkins North America, improvements are planned for four north county parks: Twin Lakes Park on State Road 72, Fruitville Park, Youth Athletic Complex on 17th Street near Ed Smith Stadium and 17th Street Park, just east of Bobby Jones Golf Course. 

Although all the parks would be updated, the park with the largest upgrade would be 17th Street, where adjacent parcels would be added to the create more than 200 acres  of  athletic and leisure complex. 

Costs for the four-park upgrade are estimated at $117 million. Commissioners worried about the price tag, particularly while the county is still recovering from COVID-19 expenses. 

However, Commissioner Mike Moran said county staff should focus on solutions and let elected officials consider the funding options. 

“It’s not your job to worry about money on this, it’s your job to come up with the right solution and vision,” Moran said. “In my opinion, you came up with the right vision and then we disagree or agree and figure out how to pay for it.” 

Director of Parks and Recreation Nicole Rissler said that although the cost is steep, the new projects would include adding regulation-size baseball, softball, soccer and football fields and championship fields that would help draw sports tourism to the county. 

Commissioner Christian Ziegler agreed, stating the potential business the parks would bring would be a great benefit to the county. 

“It’s pretty eye-opening to me what you could facilitate by adding some of these fields and adding on to this footprint,” Ziegler said. “It’s pretty darn exciting, to be honest.” 

Commissioners unanimously approved the North County Athletics Facilities Master Plan. Rissler will be back in front of the board to present funding strategies and discuss potential indoor athletic improvements June 8. 

Proposed changes to 17th Street Park would include additional acreage and a remake of baseball, softball, soccer and football fields.
Proposed changes to 17th Street Park would include additional acreage and a remake of baseball, softball, soccer and football fields.

Here’s a look at what changes the county could see within the next three to seven years. 

Twin Lakes Park 

A $23 million update is planned for Twin Lakes Park. Improvements will be made to existing baseball and softball fields and one will be removed to make way for three multi-use fields. 

Additionally, restrooms, a dog park, pickleball courts, a playground and a trail with fitness equipment around the lake will be added. The most needed improvement, Rissler said, is the reconfiguration of parking. 

“If you’ve ever been out at this site on a Saturday evening, you’ll know the number of family and kids using this park is astronomical,” Rissler said. “Everyone parks everywhere.” 

Additional parking spots and a turnaround will be added to ensure pedestrian safety. 

Youth Athletic Complex

The Youth Athletic Complex is home to the longest continuously-running BMX track in the country.

The proposed $26 million park expansion will build on the BMX use area and add a new age-friendly bike track. A new four-field Cal Ripken complex will be built on the southern end of the park. 

Other additions include a playground, restroom, basketball court, pickleball courts and relocated tennis courts. 

Fruitville Park 

The $12 million Fruitville Park upgrades mainly address softball fields that are smaller than regulation size. The two fields will be upgraded to the appropriate size and four pickleball courts will be added. 

The two multi-use fields will remain and park fitness equipment will be replaced. Pedestrian circulation, sidewalks and parking will be reconfigured. 

17th Street Park 

The project's largest update will be to the various 17th Street parks at a cost of $56 million.

Currently, the county has soccer fields, softball fields, a dog park and the Circus Hammock nature preserve spread out along 17th Street. However, plans for a reimagined park include combining all the parcels and an adjacent utilities parcel to create 200 acres of contiguous park. 

“Our goal with this park was to see how many fields we could get on the ground and how we could look at aging and failing infrastructure for these parks to see how we could develop something that is extremely beneficial for the county,” Rissler said. 

Under the proposed plan, the utilities parcel, which is on the eastern-most portion of land, will be used to house four multi-use fields, parking and a nature trail. 

All softball fields would be relocated to the current Miss Sarasota Softball location along Gun Club Road. In total, there would be 10 fields.

One would be a tournament field and another would be a championship field complete with seating and a press box. The adult fields at 17th Street Park would be removed, so two adult-sized fields would be added. 

A playground for smaller children and an additional multi-use field will be located near the softball complex. 

The old 17th Street softball fields will be turned into three multi-use fields, which will be easier maintain on the land, which used to be a landfill and is subject to settling. The fields would include a championship rectangle field and a turf area for training. 

The west side of the park will feature reconfigured dog parks, new restrooms, new parking and new trails through Circus Hammock and the archery club area. 

Additionally, the county is currently working with the city to obtain 14 acres of Bobby Jones Golf Course to create a destination playground that will connect with the rest of the park. 


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