Communication Builds Our Community

City May OK Feasibility Study for Sports and Recreation Complex

Lake Wales city officials are asking commissioners to green light a study to determine the feasibility of building a sports and recreation complex that might attract tournaments and other special events. The study would be one element of an overall recreation master plan that would be funded with recreation impact fees.

At their May 19 meeting commissioners will be asked to approve a contract with Clearwater-based Sports Facilities Advisory (SFA) for $42,500 plus travel expenses. Instead of putting out its own request for proposals, Deputy City Manager James Slaton wants commissioners to "piggyback" on a 2019 Pinellas County contract. Pinellas County did put out a request for proposals and chose SFA over three other consulting firms, awarding a contract for just under $75,000 to study the feasibility of developing a sports and event facility.

"A multi-use sports venue is an element of the City's recreation master plan and should be developed in conjunction with the other parts of the plan," Slaton said. "The comprehensive communitywide masterplan is still moving forward for this year. The consultants with SFA will work in conjunction with the design firm(s) retained for the recreation master plan, once we get the firms retained."

In their proposal to Pinellas County, SFA said it was the "nations-leading authority on the feasibility assessment, program planning, finance, and development of sports-tourism/events centers and community recreation venues." SFA said it was a strategic partner with the International City Managers Association with 16 years' experience and had overseen more than 2,000 similar engagements producing about $10 billions of dollars in developments.

Projects SFA featured in its Pinellas County proposal included a $14.2 million sports center in Myrtle Beach, SC, a $21.5 million sports world complex in Gatlinburg, TN, a $48 million event center in Rocky Mount, NC and an $80 million met sports complex in Hoover, AL. But Slaton said anything SFA might recommend for Lake Wales would be scaled for the city's size, potential market and funding available.

The proposed scope of work for Lake Wales described in a letter to Lake Wales Recreation Coordinator Stephanie Edwards includes: a Step 1 kick off call to cover introductions, project history, existing data, potential partners and stakeholders, key dates and other questions and answers; Step 2 existing data review and preliminary market research to encompass demographics, sports participation in the region and an analysis of existing service providers - the competition; Step 3 business development planning session with market/site tour to meet key stakeholders and being a "deep-dive" planning and strategy session; Step 4 detailed financial forecast with 5-year cash flow and 20-year financial outlook along with insight into the financial potential of the project including projections related to construction and start-up costs, revenues and expenses by product/program, net income facility utilization and more; Step 5 economic impact analysis based upon projected events, tournaments, teams, spectators, out-of-town visitors, length of stay and daily rates and expenditures; and Step 6 executive summary and recommendations.

"The approach outlined is unique to our conversation, your needs, responsive to your vision, and right-sized to your market," wrote Eric Sullivan, an SFA partner.

Slaton said commissioners and members of the recreation advisory committee have expressed interest in being able to host tournaments and various sports events, which have been economic boosts to many cities. To potentially qualify for Polk County tourist development and sports marketing dollars the city would need a detailed plan and economic analysis.

"If the City ever wants to approach the Board of County Commissioners for Tourist Development Council funds to assist in building a large scale sports venue to host tournaments, as they have for other communities in the county, we will need the quantifiable market and business data to support such a request and or/to make any future decisions. This is what SFA specializes in. There has been discussion surrounding building a new recreation facility over the last couple of years, and this study will help to determine if doing so will be feasible or not," Slaton said.

Mayor Eugene Fultz has been a strong advocate for building a recreation and event venue, suggesting any proposal should be placed on the 2021 city election ballot for voter approval. City Manager Ken Fields has raised the possibility of placing such a complex on the site of the city's current public works maintenance facility on Scenic Highway just west of the Kirkland Gym and Lake Wales Little Theatre. To make way for a possible recreation complex, Fields has requested $780,000 in the 2020-21 Capital Improvement Plan budget for a new public works facility. But Slaton said the consultants will look at various options and other possible locations as part of their feasibility study.

Since city officials and the recreation advisory committee started talking about the need for a recreation master plan the city moved forward in February with borrowing $900,000 to purchase the 25,790 square foot Lake Wales Family YMCA on nine acres for $565,000, with the remaining funds to cover related purchase costs and facility renovation. The city also has discussed plans for the Crystal Lake Park complex, which might include additional tennis, basketball and pickleball courts, but Slaton said everything needs to be integrated and also complement potential design elements for downtown redevelopment plans.

"The funding for the SFA contract and masterplan will come from recreation impact fees, a restricted revenue source that exists to fund the expanded recreational services needed to meet community growth," Slaton said. "These funds can't be spent on anything else. As a result of new development over the last couple of years, including the new Serenity development, the City has a balance of over $586,000 in parks and recreation impacts fees."


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