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Naples Daily News (Florida)


A little more than a year from now, Collier County plans to have at least eight new outdoor sports fields built and construction well underway on a new stadium.

The county held a brief ceremony under a hot sun Monday morning with leaders of All American Games, which hosts an annual youth football tournament here, at the site of the planned sports complex.

Commissioners unanimously approved a deal Dec. 12 to buy the land, 61 acres near where Interstate 75 crosses Collier Boulevard, for $12 million. Construction and permitting could add $48 million to the cost.

The fields will be available like any other county park to residents and local leagues when the county is not hosting tournaments on the site. But the complex is being built primarily to bring in traveling youth and amateur teams and their families for state, regional and national events, such as All American Games' national championship for Football University.

The Football University tournament, which features sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade teams from around the country, has been held in Collier County since 2014. Over that time, it has grown from 12 teams to a multiday affair with 42 teams from every region of the continental U.S.

"We want to be for Naples what the Little League World Series is for Williamsport" Pennsylvania, said Doug Berman, CEO of All American Games.

The facilities still have to be designed, including the size of an outdoor stadium and a fieldhouse that could feature indoor tennis, volleyball and basketball courts.

County officials expect to have more detailed plans drawn up by February.

The tentative plan is to have a 3,000-seat stadium that's TV camera-ready for tournaments.

The hope is to attract high school, college and regional tournaments across a wide range of sports, including football, softball, field hockey and lacrosse, said Jack Wert, county tourism director.

"We essentially have an anchor tenant with Football University," Wert said.

"When people see that there is a national championship event held here, it sends a good message to the governing bodies of other sports who are always looking for places to hold tournaments."

The complex is the county's most ambitious push to tap into traveling youth teams and amateur sports as an economic driver.

Football University alone brings in more than 4,000 players, parents and coaches for the better part of a week.

Commissioners are betting the county's climate and the site's proximity to beaches, hotels and the highway will draw more events.

"This is going to be a gift that keeps giving," Commissioner Penny Taylor said.

The events bring travelers during particularly slow times of the year, Taylor said.

A county-funded study projects that 265,000 people a year would travel to Collier County to use the sports fields. Those travelers would spend an estimated $468 million in Collier over 20 years, including $132.5 million at local hotels, according to the study.

To pay for the complex, commissioners raised the bed tax from 4 to 5 percent. The tax increase, charged on overnight stays at hotels and short-term rentals, is projected to raise $5.25 million a year.

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December 19, 2017


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