Palm Coast government will spend $113,000 to study the market potential for a sports and recreation complex, possibly in the undeveloped portion of Palm Coast, north and west of U.S. 1.
Don’t confuse it with just another Indian Trails Sports Complex. It could include indoor facilities. It could include an aquatic center. “It’s larger than more fields, and we don’t know what we’re looking for, that’s why we’re doing this study,” Jason DeLorenzo, the city’s development director and chief of staff, said.
The concept also imagines the sports complex as the catalyst to future development in Palm Coast’s next frontier: 30,000 acres of empty land. That part of the city doubles Palm Coast’s lands inside its older boundaries. It is testament to the annexation wave that followed less than a decade after Palm Coast incorporated in 1999.
Subdivisions have begun to seed development at the western edge of U.S. 1, but in slivers. There’s room for an entire replication of vast neighborhoods like Palm Coast’s W, R, P and B sections, if on a more planned, less clear-cutting basis than ITT’s approach.
“As we begin to plan those,” DeLorenzo, said this morning, “we’re going to be looking for opportunities for conservation, wildlife, wildlife habitat corridors, future water sources for the city, and of course a slew of economic growth opportunities, including the sports complex and the tourism that can be generated by it.”
The city in December begins construction on a two-year project to build a “fly-over” crossing point from U.S. 1 at Matanzas Woods Parkway over the railroad tracks, to the open west. That fly-over, so-called because it is required to pass over the railroad, is central to the city’s expansion plans. The sports complex could take shape as a beachhead to the city’s colonization efforts in that area.
But it isn’t absolutely certain that the new sports complex would be built there. Other areas will be studied as well. One such area is at the north end of the city, another at the south end of the city. Both have limitations that a complex in Palm Coast West would not have. There are environmental concerns at the north end. At the south end, the land is privately owned.
The city “suspects there may be a growing need for high quality venues to host regional, state-wide and even national sporting events and at the same time providing excellent facilities for resident use,” it states in its overview of the contract for a sports complex feasibility study. The new complex could balance out the city’s needs for more local, recreational fields, either by absorbing all regional and state competitions, theoretically leaving Indian Trails Sports Complex to cater to local leagues and residents, or by providing additional options for more tournaments.
Just four years ago, then-City Manager Jim Landon had proposed spending $100,000 for a similar study of a big “multi-generational” recreation and aquatic center that would be located at the tennis center off Belle Terre Parkway. The City Council killed the idea. There was no money to build such a center, and all available dollars were going to rebuilding Holland Park (and and that splash pad) and the Palm Coast Community Center.
But two years later the vast expansion of the tennis center began taking shape as a regional sports center, and is now a nearly $12 million project. The administration presented that recreation center, too, as a regional sports complex that would both focus on racquet competition (tennis and pickleball) and provide residents a recreational destination at the south end of town. The difference with the Palm Coast West project is that both the tennis center expansion and Indian Trails Sports Complex followed development, with a huge base of users already in place.
In Palm Coast West, the city is turning the tables. The projected sports complex would be “a magnet for all of these folks and families that are currently driving right past us in very large numbers,” Mayor David Alfin said, “down to Palm Beach County. So there’s no reason those folks should have to spend all that gas. They can stop here halfway and enjoy their sports competitions here, while enjoying all of the beauty of the city of Palm Coast.”
Alfin described the sports complex as “a catalyst, because it is the first step in the improvement of the unimproved property” west of U.S. 1. The complex at that point would depend largely on out-of-town tournaments. How a location in the middle of what would still be nowhere at that point would be attractive to participants and their families, who would still have to travel some distance to get to hotels and restaurants–as they would not at the Indian Trails Sports Complex, or in Palm Beach County–was not explained.
That may be part of what a Clearwater-based company called Sports Facilities Companies may explain for part of the $113,000 the city will pay it to study the Palm Coast West project. DeLorenzo and Lauren Johnston, the assistant city manager and former parks and recreation director, presented the proposal to the City Council in a workshop this morning.
The firm, one of seven that bid on the proposal, would study regional market demand and the potential economic benefit of “sports tourism,” as the city describes it–by which it means a replication of what it’s done at the Indian Trails Sports Complex. That facility is richly booked with regional tournaments–softball, baseball, lacrosse, soccer–that bring families to Palm Coast for overnight stays. Since the influx generates the booking of hotel rooms and the patronizing of local restaurant, it’s seen as tourism.
An accounting of the local market would have to take the Indian Trails complex into account, and to do so honestly, to project whether an additional regional sports complex could viably sustain itself without draining the existing sports complex’s base. But based on the city’s current experience (the city is currently turning away out-of-county tournaments since it has limited their numbers at Indian Trails, to ensure that local leagues have their space), that may not be an issue. Still, DeLorenzo stresses, the study is intended to answer those questions.
The firm would take 12 weeks to complete its first step–the market and competitive analysis. Step two would determine how much the plan would cost and what its potential economic benefit would be. “Task two is contingent upon the completion of task one so we want to make sure we’re satisfied with that objective first,” Johnston said.
The company, an engineering and architectural firm, claims on its website to have “overseen $10 billion in developed” sports and recreation projects in 2,000 communities. (The city’s presentation to the council upped that to $15 billion.) Those include the Panama City Beach Sports Complex with 13 tournament-quality fields and two fields with seating for up to 1,500 spectators. The company manages the facilities it builds.
Looking at the plan more broadly, Alfin said “it can become and I think will become a model for the state of Florida by denoting the greenway and animal quarters right upfront, staking those out, and doing our development work around that, we know what our priority is. This will become a model for smart growth, smart managed growth for the future.” The city, he said, has little wiggle room for mistakes as it plans that out. The council is expected to ratify the agreement with Sports Facilities Companies at its meeting next week.