If Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau, has his way, Collier County may soon resemble Lee County in its appeal to attract various sports tournaments to Southwest Florida.
To accomplish this, there would need to be additional facilities, but Wert certainly feels the demand is there.
Currently, the county does have North Collier Regional Park, located on Livingston Road, which has amenities such as a softball field, multi-purpose fields that can be used for soccer, football, lacrosse as well as other sports and activities, a gymnasium, meeting space and other features that the community can benefit from. In order to maximize what this facility, which is about eight years old, has to offer, the county looked to hosting sporting events.
“We looked to promoting sports as a way to keep the park in use all year long,” Wert said. “There are times of the year when things slow down and sports tournaments can have a big impact.”
Wert said the bureau started with recruiting regional tournaments, but now they routinely get state and national events.
“It was a wonderful surprise with how well they did,” Wert said. “Demand has grown.”
In fact, Wert said, the county may be close to capacity.
“It is hard to get new events or grow existing ones,” Wert said. “We just don’t have the space.”
While Wert did mention that there are other facilities in the county, he said that would create other logistical issues such as splitting the tournaments up.
One immediate step the county can take is to put artificial turf on some of the fields.
“This will give the fields more usage capability, so we can better maximize the facility. There also won’t be as many delays for rain.”
Providing a bigger impact though, would be to get another complex built. Along those lines, the county is currently working with other entities on a feasibility study.
“The options were to either expand North Collier Regional Park or build a new facility,” Wert said. “We are looking at four to five possible sites.”
Wert said that once a site is picked, it is his hope that it would take “about three years” for the plan to become a reality. He envisions that the project would be funded through a public/private partnership, with the majority coming from taxes generated when guests stay at county hotels.
“This project would have to promote tourism in order for that tax to be used to help fund it,” Wert said. “We also would hope to get private financing, possibly through naming rights and some of those types of opportunities.”
Wert also confirmed that the Atlanta Braves are indeed also looking to possibly make Collier County their spring training home. He is open to the possibility that the two projects may be tied together.
“There are two separate studies going on right now,” he said. “If they can be brought together, I think we would take a look at that possibility. Just look at what a great job the Red Sox do in Lee County. The county utilizes that space all year long in addition to spring training.”