The Brevard County Commission has decided it wants to play ball with the U.S. Specialty Sports Association.
The association — also known as USSSA — is considering moving its headquarters from Kissimmee to Space Coast Stadium in Viera, and holding youth and other amateur sports events there at least 175 days a year.
It said it would guarantee events would generate at least 75,000 nights of hotel room rentals a year in its first full year of operation and at least 100,000 rooms annually by its third year of operation.
Four of the five commissioners liked what they heard and approved a memorandum of understanding with USSSA, under which the county would spend up to $10 million in hotel tax money to upgrade the stadium complex, including the surrounding practice fields and training facilities. The county’s spending on the upgrades would be tied to the USSSA delivering on its hotel room rental promises.
Under the plan, the county would:
•Build eight new artificial-turf baseball fields near the stadium.
•Convert an existing natural-turf field to artificial turf.
•Add 600 spectator seats and a concession stand to an existing baseball field near Space Coast Stadium.
•Add lighting throughout the complex to accommodate night games.
Money for the upgrades would come from a combination of reserves now in hand from the county’s 5 percent tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals, coupled with no more than $5 million in borrowing. The loan would be repaid with future tourist tax revenue, according to County Commission Chairman Robin Fisher, who helped negotiate the deal.
In return for the upgraded complex, the USSSA would sign a 20-year lease agreement for Space Coast Stadium and the adjacent Carl Barger Training Complex under which it would:
•Move its headquarters and at least 19 full-time employees from Kissimmee to Brevard County.
•Hold sports tournaments in Viera at least 175 days a year.
•Take over operations and routine maintenance of the buildings, fields and other facilities.
•Contribute $250,000 a year for capital improvements and capital maintenance of the stadium complex.
•Make the stadium complex available for events sponsored by the county or community organizations for at least 75 days a year, and negotiate a percentage of food and beverage revenue-sharing to go toward the community organizations.
Sports group may move into Space Coast Stadium
Commissioner Trudie Infantini voted against the proposal. She objected to the county spending money on the stadium for use by amateur sports at the same time the owner of the Cocoa Expo Sports Center off State Road 520 is spending his own money to upgrade the Cocoa Expo facility for a similar use.
“I’m just baffled,” Infantini said. “Who sees this as a good idea?”
Brevard County Clerk of Courts Scott Ellis suggested that Brevard County would be better off selling Space Coast Stadium to USSSA to get the county out of the sports business altogether.
Local hotel owners and others in the hospitality industry told commissioners they support the USSSA-county deal, saying it would bring business to local hotels, restaurants and retailers.
Hotel owner Tom Hermansen of Cocoa Beach said youth sports offers “one of the best returns on investment you can get.”
The USSSA and Brevard County still must finalize their contract, and that contract would come back to the County Commission for a vote.
USSSA chairman and chief executive officer Don DeDonatis said he hopes to begin operations by fall 2016, initially with baseball and softball. When fields are converted to artificial turf, he hopes to add soccer and lacrosse to the mix.
DeDonatis said that because the USSSA holds large baseball and softball tournaments, he sees the possibility of working with Cocoa Expo and other area venues to jointly host events.
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Space Coast Stadium now is used by the Washington Nationals major league baseball team for its spring training and by the Brevard County Manatees Class A minor league baseball team during its season.
The Nationals plan to move their spring training to West Palm Beach after the 2016 or 2017 season. The Manatees also have been considering moving to another site, but have made no commitments.
DeDonatis said that if the Manatees want to continue playing at Space Coast Stadium, the USSSA would try to work out a deal with that team.
“I would like to see some cooperation with the Manatees,” County Commissioner Curt Smith said, in addition to the USSSA considering holding high school football games at Space Coast Stadium during fall football season.
Fisher said the Manatees’ management last week presented commissioners a competing proposal for the Manatees to be the prime user of Space Coast Stadium. But Fisher said he did not believe that plan was as financially attractive to the county and the tourism industry as the USSSA plan.
In April, the County Commission approved an agreement with the Nationals and a unit of The Viera Co. to give the county control of the entire stadium complex and to allow the commission to seek other operators for the complex.
Fisher said he has been in talks with USSSA since last fall. The discussions intensified after the County Commission vote in April, giving the county control over the complex.