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Florida Sports Tourism: Successfully Recycling Old Pro Ballparks

Cocoa Expo Sports

When the Washington Nationals, Cleveland Indians, Florida Marlins and Houston Astros all moved out of previous spring-training homes, the assumption was that the old ballparks would just fade away. Instead, we have facilities that are a key part of Florida sports tourism in 2018 and beyond.

Space Coast Stadium and the adjoining Barger Complex never comprised the cushiest of spring-training facilities for the Florida Marlins, Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals. When the Nationals committed to a move to West Palm Beach’s The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the future of Space Coast Stadium was in serious doubt.

A plan to lease the facility and the adjoining practice field to U.S. Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) may end up providing a more sustainable boost to the local economy than spring training did, as the sports-tourism firm is working to fill the ballpark and 15 adjoining fields with enough events to fill 75,000 nights of hotel room rentals annually. From Florida Today:

Starting this month, USSSA will be holding events almost every weekend or full week during 2018 at what’s now known as the USSSA Space Coast Complex.

The complex includes 15 baseball and softball fields of various sizes, with artificial turf and lights to accommodate night games.

“It’s going to grow our sports tourism tremendously,” said Tom Bartosek, the Office of Tourism’s tourism operations coordinator and the office’s point person on sports events. “It’s going to have a very big impact, and it’s like nothing we’ve seen. The hotels are going to see it. The restaurants are going to see it. The stores are going to see it. It’s going to be a big economic impact. It’s going to be great.”

About $30 million in ballpark and complex upgrades were part of the deal. USSSA is committed to $20 million in upgrades; the Brevard County Tourist Development Tax will pay the rest.

That’s not the only former spring-training facility generating economic activity in Florida. Tournaments at Chain of Lakes Park (former Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox spring-training home) and Cocoa Expo Sports Complex (former Houston Astros and Florida Marlins spring home) are expected to generate some 5,000 nights of hotel reservations. The Cocoa Expo Sports Complex is shown at the top of this page; a $40-million renovation was completed in 2012. Add in the former Dodgertown complex in Vero Beach, and you have plenty of old spring-complexes shown new life with sports tourism.

Image courtesy Cocoa Expo Sport Complex.

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