The U.S. Specialty Sports Association has a new home in Viera.
Brevard County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Aug. 6 to approve a 20-year lease agreement with the nonprofit amateur sports organization for the use of Space Coast Stadium once the Washington Nationals move their spring training operations to West Palm Beach. The Nationals and Houston Astros, who are leaving Kissimmee, plan to share a facility expected to be completed in spring 2017.
As part of the agreement, Brevard would reimburse the USSSA for $10 million in upgrades to the stadium complex, with funds coming from the county’s 5 percent tourist development tax on hotels and rental units.
Currently headquartered in Kissimmee, the USSSA plans to host 175 days a year of youth sporting events at the 8,100-seat stadium and nearby fields along Stadium Parkway. The USSSA presents events in a dozen amateur sports, including baseball, fast- and slow-pitch softball and basketball.
“We’re looking forward to coming here and hanging our hat here for the next 20 years,” Don DeDonatis, USSSA chairman and chief executive officer, told commissioners.
DeDonatis said the USSSA will guarantee 75,000 room nights of hotel rentals in its first year and 100,000 room nights by its third year in Brevard. The organization also will heavily promote Brevard County at all events, he said.
Eric Garvey, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism, said the USSSA’s numerous events will attract tourists who will “stabilize our market.”
“It will reduce the difference between our peaks and our valleys, and that will do wonders for our tourism-related businesses beyond hotels,” Garvey said. “Our restaurants will no longer have to hire and fire just for peak seasons. They will be more stable. Our attractions will have more families visiting them. So there are intangible benefits that go beyond room-night generation.”
Dave Spain, owner of Comfort Inn & Suites in Cocoa Beach since 1972, said the USSSA’s arrival, along with a thriving Port Canaveral and a reviving space program, should help jumpstart the local economy.
“They are the name, they’re the ones, they’re the big boys,” Spain said of the USSSA. “They’re the ones we want to be involved with and I can’t tell you how excited the hotel industry and tourism industry is to have this opportunity.”
Commissioner Trudie Infantini, who voted against the agreement, said she thought the county was wrong to invest taxpayer funds in a private business and that the funds would be better spent on cleaning up the Indian River Lagoon. She questioned why the USSSA didn’t strike a deal with the owner of Cocoa Expo at State Road 520 just west of Interstate 95.
“How can we justify using $10 million in tax dollars to make improvements to a stadium when we have another individual who invested $30 million of their own money to provide virtually the exact same facility?” Infantini asked.
DeDonatis said the USSSA likely will need 25 to 30 playing fields for all its events and already has discussed hosting games on fields at Cocoa Expo.
The lease agreement leaves in question the future of the Brevard County Manatees, a Class A Florida State League affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers and a stadium tenant since 1994. Manatees general manager Kyle Smith proposed a five-year lease deal to the county, but Commission Chairman Robin Fisher said the USSSA proposal was much better.
Commissioner Curt Smith said Manatees officials want the team to stay in Viera and want to work with the USSSA. “They’re not bringing the finances you guys are,” Smith said to USSSA representatives, “but they are an asset to the community.”
The Manatees already have discussed leaving Viera after the Nationals depart. Plans to move the team to Rollins College in Winter Park fell through in 2014 and Melbourne commissioners killed a plan earlier this year to build a smaller stadium in downtown Melbourne. The team also has approached Palm Bay about the possibility of erecting a stadium at U.S. 1 and Port Malabar Boulevard.