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Naples Daily News (Florida)
Collier County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to take the first step toward construction of a community sports complex that could cost $60million to $100 million.
To pay for it, the county might have to raise its bed tax on overnight stays from 4 to 5 percent
The complex would feature eight multiuse fields, eight baseball diamonds and a championship venue for traveling regional and national amateur tournaments.
Commissioners voted Tuesday to allow staff to start negotiating with owners of two potential sites for the fields: one near the intersection of Collier Boulevard and Interstate 75 east of Naples; the other at the Golden Gate Country Club golf course.
Commissioners also are considering building the complex on county-owned land immediately northeast of the Collier Boulevard and I-75 intersection.
The facilities would help youth soccer, football and baseball teams find a place to play while taking pressure off the county's overcrowded fields that are struggling to keep up with a growing population.
They also could help the county tap into the amateur sports tourism market, Commissioner Penny Taylor said.
"Tourism is flat, and we've got Cuba at our doorstep," Taylor said. "This kind of tourism is so wonderful because it doesn't matter if the sun is shining. Athletes are here to compete rain or shine, and right now we are turning groups away."
Approval of the project could depend on the price.
It would cost about $4.2 million a year for 20 years at current market interest rates to pay down a $60 million loan, according to county estimates. The bed tax increase would bring in an estimated $5.2 million a year.
It would take a supermajority of commissioners, four out of five, to raise the bed tax.
Taylor said she would support raising it only if commissioners also revisit the way the money is allocated between beach renourishment and advertising.
The sports complex would fit on about 100 undeveloped acres owned by developer Roger Rice at I-75 and Collier Boulevard.
The site, called City Gate, is where the Atlanta Braves asked the county to build a $100 million spring training stadium late last year. Commissioners unanimously rejected the stadium proposal in December.
The county's early estimate to build at City Gate is that it would cost $99 million, including $41 million for the land. But county officials and Rice said they think the price of the land can come down significantly.
"We believe City Gate is an ideal location for this with existing permits and zoning and roadways," Rice said. "We have some opportunities that could let us minimize our prices. We think negotiations would be productive and we could reach an acceptable price."
If the county builds at City Gate, it could start construction within a year or two, said Deputy County Manager Nick Casalanguida. The county also owns more than 300 acres immediately east of the City Gate property.
If the county were to build there, it would cost an estimated $69.9 million, including $16 million for site preparation. But it would take three to five years to get federal and state permits to begin construction, Casalanguida said.
Golden Gate Country Club owners hope to convert the golf course into more housing, but they also have said they are interested in selling to the county.
Casalanguida said the county hasn't begun to study the more than 160-acre course as an option but will begin negotiations and bring back a cost estimate and feasibility study to the commission.
Commissioners could make a decision on whether to raise the tax and select a site within the next 120 days.
More than a dozen supporters of the project, many involved in youth leagues or amateur sports, applauded the decision to proceed on the complex proposal.
Sports tournaments don't just bring visitors in for a week, they showcase the Naples area to thousands of people who might decide to vacation or buy a home here, said Jim Ludwig, who helped bring the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships to East Naples.
"People who are coming down here see how beautiful it is," Ludwig said. "You bring all these kids and their families down here, and they say, 'Hey, I want to go back there.'"
More sites will be essential to keeping and attracting regional or national tournaments, said Douglas Berman, chairman of All American Games, which has hosted the Football University national championships in Collier County for the past three years.
The four-day tournament has been splitting its games between four high school fields, Berman said.
"You just can't keep going through that," he said. "It's true for soccer and lacrosse tournaments. It's true for all of us. We'd love to anchor our event in Naples, but without multiple fields at a site, we're not going to be able to stay long-term."
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