Brevard County tourism officials say they are excited about the prospects of increased business for local hotels, restaurants and attractions, now that Brevard County has finalized its deal with a youth sports organization that will bring tournaments to Space Coast Stadium in Viera.
But Brevard County Clerk of Courts Scott Ellis and County Commissioner Trudie Infantini are concerned about the deal between the county and the U.S. Specialty Sports Association, partly because of the use of county Tourist Development Tax money to help pay for stadium complex upgrades.
Under the 20-year lease agreement, the association will move its amateur sports operations from Kissimmee to Space Coast Stadium. It promises to bring at least 175 days a year of sports events to the Space Coast, initially focusing on youth baseball, and youth and adult softball.
The association said it will guarantee at least 75,000 room nights of hotel rentals in its first full year of operation, increasing to 100,000 room nights by year three.
As part of the deal, the USSSA will promote Brevard County tourism-related services — including restaurants, adventure experiences, attractions and cultural institutions — to its tournament participants.
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That excites Brevard Zoo Executive Director Keith Winsten, who expects that will help attract more people to the Viera zoo, which is about 4 miles from the stadium complex.
“This is a great move for us, and everybody like us — restaurants, other attractions, cultural institutions,” Winsten said. “We need that drive here. We can start to market to a whole new audience” of USSSA tournament participants and their families.
The Washington Nationals major league baseball team holds spring training at Space Coast Stadium. But the Nationals plan to move spring training to West Palm Beach after the 2016 or 2017 spring training season.
Brevard tourism officials believe amateur sports will have more of a tourism impact than the Nationals ever did.
The deal calls for Brevard County to reimburse the USSSA up to $10 million for improvements the association plans to make to the stadium complex. The upgrades include constructing 10 new artificial-turf fields, converting natural-turf fields to artificial turf and adding lighting beyond the stadium, so the complex can accommodate large youth sports tournaments.
The $10 million will come from revenue generated by the county’s 5 percent Tourist Development Tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals.
Space Coast Office of Tourism Executive Director Eric Garvey said he could not think of a better use of the tourist tax revenue, since it would boost hotel occupancy significantly.
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The guarantee of 100,000 room nights a year would generate $500,000 a year in added Tourist Development Tax revenue, based on an average room rate of $100 a night. The guarantee of 75,000 room nights a year would generate $375,000 a year.
Money from the Tourist Development Tax is used for such things as marketing the Space Coast to tourists, as well as for beach renourishment, tourist visitor centers, marketing of cultural events, sports promotion and upgrades to the Brevard Zoo.
“For me, it’s hard to articulate how great of a deal this is for us,” Garvey said.
But Ellis doesn’t like how the deal is set up. In comments he posted on Facebook, Ellis said: “There is no guarantee the work will be competitively bid, and little check and balance of the bills submitted to the county for ‘reimbursement.’ The county will fork over $10 million for whatever is claimed to be $10 million in improvements.”
Ellis said the county-owned stadium “should have been sold for the value of the land. The structure costs more in maintenance than it generates in revenue, so sell the whole shebang to highest bidder.”
County Commission Chairman Robin Fisher told county commissioners that the deal was structured with the reimbursement because his feeling is that the USSSA “could get more bang for their buck,” compared with the county going out to bid on the project.
The USSSA also will be putting up an undetermined amount of its own money for the project.
Infantini — the only commissioner to vote against the deal — had raised concerns about the impact of the USSSA project on the privately owned Cocoa Expo Sports Center, just west of Cocoa.
Cocoa Expo has undertaken a major renovation of that complex, and has started scheduling youth sports tournaments there.
One of Infantini’s issues is that the Cocoa Expo might have grounds to successfully sue Brevard County over the county’s support of the USSSA, which she sees as a competing facility to the Cocoa Expo.
“We’re getting into the business of doing private work with public dollars,” Infantini said. “How in the world do you justify that?”
But Don DeDonatis, chairman and chief executive officer of the USSSA, told county commissioners that he has met with Cocoa Expo owner Jeffrey Unnerstall, and will be working with Cocoa Expo to jointly host large tournaments.
“We’re going to be his best friend,” DeDonatis said. “It’s a partnership that will be good.”
Garvey said having the USSSA in Viera will “stabilize our market,” by providing more room rentals during off-peak tourism periods, allowing hotels, restaurants and attractions to avoid temporary layoffs.
Fisher said the goal “is that everybody stays in Brevard,” with tournament participants and their families using local hotels, restaurants and attractions.
“Then, we all win,” Fisher said.
County Commissioner Jim Barfield said he likes the idea that the stadium complex will be used year-round, under the USSSA plan.
“Amateur sports and families is what this community is about,” Barfield said. “I think this is a good deal for us. I’m all for this.”
In addition to baseball and softball, DeDonatis said the USSSA plans to have soccer, lacrosse and flag football events in Viera.
David Spain, owner and operator of the Comfort Inn & Suites in Cocoa Beach, said he was never a fan of the theory that professional baseball spring training would bring large numbers of tourists to the area.
But he thinks the USSSA youth and other amateur sports operations will be a winner for the tourism industry.
In discussing, the USSSA, Spain said the county couldn’t be working with a better organization.
“They are the name,” Spain said. “They’re the ones. They’re the big boys. They’re the ones we want to be involved with. And I can’t tell you how excited the hotel industry and the tourism industry is to have this opportunity.”
Contact Berman at 321-242-3649 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ByDaveBerman and on Facebook at facebook.com/dave.berman.54.