By Caitlyn Finnegan
Nations Park has cancelled a major summer tournament, angering several of the teams that have signed up to attend, along with disappointing local business and lodging owners who were expecting to host incoming players and families.
Teams were notified of the cancellation of most of the park’s 2013 Louisville Slugger “Summer Classics” series on May 6, just a month before they were scheduled to play. According to local hotel managers, hotels were notified as late as May 8.
The Summer Classics series was scheduled for June 15 to August 8. According to its interlocal contract with the city of Newberry and in accordance with its eligibility for funding from the Alachua County tourist development tax, the facility is supposed to be on track to host 50 teams each week for 12 weeks during the summer, as well as numerous weekend and holiday tournaments throughout the rest of the year. The park officially opened in June 2012 and has so far hosted just a handful of local tournaments.
One of the teams slated to play, the Virginia Baseball Academy, has already spent thousands of dollars buying plane tickets and planning family vacations around the tournament according to its owner, Wayne Gomes. Gomes, the founder of the academy and a former Major League Baseball pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, said the complex’s lack of communication on its reasons for cancelling was disappointing.
“Our families have been been planning for this tournament for seven months,” Gomes said. “Now that it is this late in the season, it is going to be extremely difficult trying to get into another location in a time frame that works for us.”
Teams were told a variety of reasons for the cancellation, ranging from safety concerns with the field to irrigation problems to a desire to consolidate the tournament down to one week of play after facing a lack of interest from teams. Nations Park staff declined to comment on the cancellation.
Gomes said a list of the teams slated to play in the tournament was never provided to his team, and a full list of teams is not listed anywhere on the Nations Park website.
The possibility that the park could already be cast in a bad light with teams across the country should worry community stakeholders, said Joe Mulinaro, a regional manager for Ripken Baseball, which has competing facilities located in Aberdeen, Md., and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Mulinaro said he received calls from parents of players from some of the teams affected by the cancellation searching for a new location and tournament to play in.
Nations Park is a youth baseball and softball invitational tournament facility managed by the same company that operates Cooperstown Dreams Park in Cooperstown, N.Y. Its construction was funded by the county’s tourism development tax. County funding from the tax is supposed to be allocated for projects that will attract visitors to the area and generate economic returns for all tourism industry partners. If the complex fails, millions of dollars in funding are at stake.
Original plans for the 16-field, $7 million complex projected that Nations Park would generate 50,000 to 80,000 bed nights a year for lodging locations in Alachua County. Now, local hotels that had planned on hosting some of the teams during the summer series stand to lose as much as $80,000 each in room revenue, according to hotel managers.
Gainesville and Alachua County has nearly 60 lodging properties that contribute to the tax, with about 4,600 hotel rooms including seven bed & breakfasts and four full-service hotels.
“This project is just like anything else; it needs time to adjust a bit,” said Richard Blalock, parks and recreation director for the city of Newberry. “A ramp-up period is laid out in the contract to give the complex time to go through these obstacles before the park is where it needs to be.”
According to Blalock, the allocated “ramp-up period” through December 31, 2014, is meant to serve as a trial period for testing tournament specifications and attracting interest from teams and sports organizations across the country.
Registered teams will receive their money back for tournament registration, but money spent on travel plans will not be reimbursed.
The complex’s Memorial Day Tournament, scheduled for May 25 through 27, took place as planned. The tournament hosted four youth baseball and softball games featuring local teams.