RIVERVIEW – $15 million from Community Investment Tax dollars was released for a county soccer tournament facility by Hillsborough County Commissioners in September of 2012 but the economy didn’t allow for the money to be spent.
But the funds were released for spending in the 2013 budget so that the project can be built and the county is seeking between 100 and 150 acres in the south Brandon/Riverview/Providence area for the complex, said Swati Bose, manager of architectural services of the county’s Facility Management Department.
“They OK’d it three years ago before the economy went south but now it is back again and the project is a go,” Bose said.
The site has not even been decided upon yet so no renderings or solid plans can be made, she said.
But Mark Thornton, director of the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department isn’t letting any grass grow under his feet.
He’s working hard on several ideas to make the project happen, including a possible public-private partnership with the Tampa Flames of VisionPro Sports who want to build a similar competitive soccer-football complex big enough to draw national competitions in the same area.
“There just isn’t any sense in competing when the main reason we need the complex is to bring in revenue for the county — for businesses — bring people to hotels and restaurants and have real world-class tournaments,” Thornton said in a telephone interview Jan. 3.
Although the complex is planned as a soccer center with 16-to-20 large fields, football, lacrosse and ultimate Frisbee could also be played there if an overlay was put over a soccer field.
“The reason for that is that soccer takes up the most space and has the biggest field. We build for that and we can use it for many other things,” Thornton said.
Right now the county is eyeing vacant land just to the west of south Brandon’s Providence Park. This location would be both accessible to people coming from all over the country and yet helpful for local teams, he said.
The county is trying to get the best possible price on acquisition so it will have more of the $15 million to build the facility.
“That sounds like a lot of money when you’re building a road project but to build a complex like this, we’ll have to watch every dollar to get it done right,” Thornton added.
The idea for the complex came about when the Commissioners decided not to pursue the idea of Championship Park in 2008, he continued.
But the idea the county would benefit from a large tournament sports facility is really much older than that.
Newspaper archives show that in the late 1980s and early ’90s a group called the Big Bend Group led by Riverview resident Joe Smith pursued the idea of a large South County sports complex for competitions that would draw TDC dollars to the area.
TDC (or Tourist Development Council) money is dispensed every two years according to projects and businesses (like theme parks — but also smaller ones) that bring people from more than a 50 mile radius of the Tampa Bay area and who spend at least one night in a hotel or motel here.
It is called “bed tax money.”
“At the time the Commissioners decided not to build Championship Park there was $40 million in the fund for it which was eventually split up among projects like the YMCA and parks and other things that would help the area,” Thornton said. “But now the idea has resurfaced and it’s going to happen.”
All systems are go.
“We’ve lost major revenue by not hosting tournaments that have recently gone to Bradenton and Polk County because we did not have the funds to make our fields the best they could be,” Thornton continued. “Polk has new artificial turf and that doesn’t depend on weather. Then there’s the IMG Soccer Academy that went to Bradenton. We’ve lost out and we need to make it up so we can be a draw to outsiders as well as help local teams that are using our current fields.”
The expansion of the FishHawk sports complex will have new soccer fields but is cramped as it is now.
Thornton called attention to the fact that Summerfield Soccer Complex on Big Bend Road at Balm-Riverview is only running at 30 percent capacity.
“If they could move a few teams there until we got FishHawk finished, it could alleviate problems. Once that project is finished we’ll be in good shape,” he said.
Meanwhile, the county real estate department is seeking to make a deal for land, which will be followed by architectural drawings under the direction of Erthel Hill, Bowes said.
“The key is finding the land we need at a price we can pay,” she said.