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Opinion

Now that Sports Complex is done, let them come


Posted

MIDDLEBURG – Civic and elected leaders believed the sports teams would come if they built the Clay County Regional Sports Complex.

And they will.

The demand for the eight multipurpose fields on State Road 21, a mile north of SR 16, has been so intense the county’s parks and recreation department has already had to juggle its schedule to keep up with demands.

A college lacrosse tournament for last weekend was rescheduled for later, which will make this weekend’s Jaguars NFL FLAG Regional Tournaments the first events for the $7 million complex.

There will be 97 teams from 11 different divisions for children 9-through-13 competing in five-on-five games on April 13. Winners of each division will advance to the NFL FLAG Championships in Canton, Ohio, on July 18-21.

Then, on July 14, the NFL FLAG Jaguars Adult Regional Tournament will be played at the complex.

The two-day event will attract about 1,500 people. One of the rules for NFL FLAG is if a team has to travel more than 60 miles, it must book a local room through the league.

Not bad for an opening weekend.

“Tourism had an increase of nearly 10% in generated fees, which all add up to about nearly $300 per household in funding,” said County Commissioner and Chairman of the Tourist Development Council Mike Cella.

“That’s money that our citizens don’t have to pay because visitors come into our county. They have a great experience, spend their money in hotels and shops. Those are tax dollars from their transactions, services and benefits. Remember that about sports tourism, tourism in general. It’s nice for them to visit, leave their money, and then go home. That’s the way it works,” Cella said. 

The county partnered with Airstream Adventures to attract events in 2020. Headed by longtime sports marketing professional Alan Verlander, Airstream landed contracts for events like Motosurf, Inspire National Dance Competition, Minor League Golf Tour, American Cornhole League tournament, First Coast Rugby Classic Tournament, USA Cycling, Kayak Bass Fishing, Florida Roundnet (Spike Ball) Tournament and the Sunshine State Games.

Verlander was behind the NFL FLAG contracts, and he’s already booked the Florida Prep Lacrosse Showcase, the United Flag Football League Championship and Spike the Ball Regional Championship. He said he’s currently negotiating to bring two more Florida Lacrosse Showcases, seven-on-seven and five-on-five regional football championships, another United Flag Football League Championship, Collee Lacrosse Spring Break Round Robin, United Rugby Championship, High School and Middle School Cross Country Meets with more than 1,000 runners and Punt, Pass and Kick Championships.

The complex was officially opened on April 5. The first phase includes eight multipurpose fields, restrooms, a three-quarter-mile walking trail and paved parking for 350 cars. Five of the fields are lighted. The fields can host soccer, lacrosse, flag football, field hockey, spike ball and ultimate disk golf.

Carlton Construction President Matt Carlton said it took “approximately 30,000 man-hours” to complete the project.

The 250-acre complex borders land owned by the North Florida Land Trust. County Director of Tourism Kimberly Morgan said the county and NFLT will partner to build trails through the wilderness.

But make no mistake: Clay County Regional Sports Complex is good for business.

“Florida sports tourism also supports nearly one million part-time and full-time jobs throughout the state every year,” Cella said. “And we want Clay County to get our fair share of that business.”

And we’ll leave the lights on for them.