Tourism officials: Dodgertown deal necessary for everyone’s sake

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – While Vero Beach City Council and Indian River County Commission members get ready to settle their differences concerning the future use of Dodgertown, most everyone connected with the local tourism industry say a deal can’t get done fast enough.

They are convinced that sporting events bring visitors and visitors bring cash and, over the course of a year, lots of it that makes its way into the local economy.

Representatives of the hospitality industry point to a study put out this month by the Treasure Coast Sports Commission, an organization which works to bring athletic events to venues throughout the Treasure Coast, showing that in fiscal year 2009-10 sports tourism brought in $7.1 million into Indian River County cash registers.

And, when you factor in all those outside dollars circulating through the local economy, they put the figure at closer to $12.4 million.

That figure does not take into account the jobs it takes to support the tourists coming to watch, support or play in the various sporting activities.

“When you think about the trickledown effect it is just enormous,” said Indian River County Chamber of Commerce President Penny Chandler. “Those people that come for sporting events not only stay in our hotels, but they also eat, they buy gas, they buy souvenirs to take home. And then those people realize Indian River County is a wonderful destination and come back and vacation here.”

The prime generator of the sports tourism dollars – but by no means the only such engine – is the facility formerly known as Dodgertown, which has been re-branded the Vero Beach Sports Village.

One such event last year – a series of weeklong stays by college and high school teams from the end of February through early April – generated 4,312 hotel room nights and a $3.1 million infusion into the local economy.

In all, the Treasure Coast Sports Commission says athletic events it sponsored for the fiscal year accounted for 9,694 room nights in Indian River County.

That figure is not lost on those in the hospitality business.

“I would venture to say it accounted for well over 10 percent, of our business,” said Keith Kite, owner of the Spring Hill Suites Marriott. “We had over 1,000 room nights directly from the baseball tournaments at Vero Beach Sports Village last year.”

Kite is part of Chamber of Commerce Sports Committee, which works with Dodgertown officials and the Treasure Sports Commission to attract events to Indian River County.

In the past year those events have included the high school and college spring training, part of the Police and Fire Games, Special Olympics Aquatics Championships, University of South Florida football training camp, soccer, lacrosse, taekwondo, softball and crew tournaments, umpiring schools and a training camp for the Chinese National baseball team.

Also this year the county hosted surfing tournaments at the Sebastian Inlet and Vero Beach was the site of the statewide shuffleboard championships.

To be sure, sports tourism in Indian River County has been trending up.

In fiscal year 2005-06 the Sports Commission placed the direct impact of sports tourism dollars in Indian River County at $834,893. In 2006-7 it was $2.4 million, in 2007-08 $3.1 million, in 2008-2009 $3.4 million and in the last fiscal year revenue generated jumped to $7 million.

The crux of that surge has been the Sports Village at Vero Beach, run for the last year by Minor League Baseball.

MiLB’s intended goal is making the facility a year-round destination for athletic events for young and old of all particular sporting persuasions.

But the future of the Vero Beach Sports Village is an open question.

The facility is within the city limits, but owned by the county with the two bodies owning parts of the old Dodgertown golf course.

Minor League Baseball wants to build a cloverleaf of softball/little league fields that it says is crucial to its business model to operate the facility year round.

But MiLB is currently caught between the city and the county that need to swap land and agree to parking and access issues to build the fields just to the south of Holman Stadium.

“I feel like I am stuck in the middle and we need a decision,” said MiLB Vice President Craig Callan.

The issue should come to a head at a face-to-face meeting Jan. 11 between the County Commissioners City Council members.

Callan says if the matter is not settled at that meeting or very soon thereafter he won’t be able to market the youth fields for the Spring of 2012 and his organization will shutter the facility and move on.

That result is unthinkable to Kite, who not only owns a local hotel but has the rights to another and views the Vero Beach Sports Village “as the incubator for the city and the county to have its next growth spurt in sports tourism.”

“All my efforts have been along using our existing infrastructure to grow our economic base,” Kite said. “To me one of those most certainly is Dodgertown, tourism and sports. We will always be a destination because we have the beach, but if we let the Sports Village go, we might as well cut off one of our arms.”

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