The long-anticipated economic infusion from the $7 million Nations Park youth baseball complex in Newberry will have to wait a little longer.
The grand opening, originally planned for late June, has been postponed until the week of Thanksgiving. Only one tournament, with 40 to 50 teams, is scheduled this summer.
In planning for the 16-field complex that’s being built with Alachua County Tourist Development Tax dollars, city officials projected that it would rival Cooperstown Dreams Park in New York State, which attracts 1,300 teams annually.
“Getting going has proven to be a little more difficult than we had expected,” says Stefan Davis, president of Davis & Sons Construction, which donated 40 acres for the baseball fields. “In a year or two, we’ll be going full blast like we had hoped to.”
Despite the slow start, Newberry City Manager Keith Ashby says a developer is considering building a $7 million to $10 million sports arena and hotel complex in town.
The developer is working with Enterprise
Florida and city officials on the project, says Ashby, who declined to give more details.
Davis remains optimistic about the 150-acre Sandia development his company plans west of Nations Park, but he says he has to be patient.
Sandia will be similar to the Town of Tioga, with a combination of homes, stores, restaurants and up to four hotels. “Hotel developers are waiting to see the bed nights before they make a commitment,” Davis says.
CONSTRUCTION DELAYS SLOWED BOOKINGS
Few teams made reservations for tournaments this summer due to delays in completing Nations Park, Ashby says. “Teams book one to three years in advance, so we can’t expect to be busy from day one.”
“This gives us a test period, a time to be sure everything is working like it should,” he says. “We can have an optimum grand opening to establish our brand, with the governor and lots of other people coming.”
The baseball park’s construction was delayed by unexpected circumstances like relocating gopher tortoises found in the land and dealing with sinkholes, notes Lou Presutti.
Presutti, founder of the Cooperstown baseball complex in the small city that is home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, persuaded Newberry as well as county government to join in the youth baseball project.
“There was nothing we could do to get the fields completed earlier,” Presutti says. “All thing considered, it’s good that we didn’t book heavily this summer.
“The sod needs time to mature,” he says. “We would have had egg on our face if we had chopped the fields to ribbons before the root system was established.”
Participation in the Cooperstown events built up over 15 years, Ashby says. “We can’t expect to be up to that level on day one. We expect a three-year ramp-up.”
Roland Loog, the Alachua County tourist development director, says he’s not surprised by Nations Park’s pace in booking teams.
He’s confident that the baseball complex will achieve the performance measures it is required to meet. Nations Baseball is required to hold 12 tournaments with 40 or more teams annually by the end of 2014.
Participation in tournaments in Newberry will take off, due to the outstanding nature of the 16 fields at Nations Park, which feature artificial turf infields, Loog says.
“The word will get out that, ‘You’ve got to play in Newberry,’” he says.
Joe Tyler of Pensacola, who organizes youth baseball tournaments in Pensacola and Tallahassee, says the Newberry complex will be a big draw, due to its outstanding facilities and its good location.
The largest number of youth baseball fields together in the state is five in Fort Myers, Tyler says. No other venues feature artificial turf infields.
“The Newberry facility will be fantastic,” he says. “I wish we had it in Pensacola.”
Newberry city manager Keith Ashby continues to tout the economic benefits that recreation is bringing to Newberry, a community of 6,000.
Two new restaurants, the Firefly and the Red Wok, opened in Newberry recently, he notes.
The $3.5 million Easton-Newberry Sports Complex, which attracts archers for training and competition from around the world, is doubling in size, Ashby notes. He also says that E.D. Norfleet and Sons, a large land owner and the builder of about 450 homes in the Newberry area, plans to move forward on its 20-acre “town center.”
For Developer Stefan Davis to proceed with his Sandia development, he needs for the city to provide water for the site. “It’s a chicken-and-egg situation,” he says. “The city needs to know that development is happening in order to expand the water system, but developers need to know that water is available in order to make their plans.”