TAMPA — Work is still under way, but Hillsborough officials took a moment Thursday to show off progress on their new $17 million sports complex — a state of the art collection of 15 athletic fields designed to attract national tournaments.
The first major event has already been secured for January at the Hillsborough County Tournament SportsPlex, a 65-acre center on Columbus Drive between U.S. 301 and Falkenburg Road.
The U.S. Flag and Touch Football League's National Championships will be conducted there Jan. 18-20, according to a county news release.
The fields can be configured for a variety of sports, including soccer; football; lacrosse; rugby; cricket; ultimate, the flying disc game; and field hockey. Among the features of the complex are energy-saving LED lighting, wireless internet access, bleacher seating adjacent to a vendor village area, and a robotic field striper that uses GPS to automatically line fields.
The SportsPlex is a partnership between Hillsborough County, the Tampa Sports Authority, and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. Hillsborough County is building and will own the center and it will be managed by the Tampa Sports Authority.
The vision of a year-round sports complex that could tap into the booming economy of youth athletics was first laid out by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman in 2005.
However, commissioners eventually balked at his lofty proposal for a $40 million amateur sports park, including a 22,000-seat stadium, on 425 acres near Plant City.
Commissioner Ken Hagan picked up the mantle, and three years ago he won $15 million in the county's capital improvement program for a scaled-back complex that would focus on regional youth sports tournaments.
Millions of kids participate in sports, and youth athletics drives $7 billion a year in economic activity across the country, according to a 2013 study from Sports Facilities Advisory, a consulting company based in Clearwater.
There are traveling youth teams for every sport, and landing just one event can mean hundreds of room nights at hotels and thousands of tourists spending money at restaurants and local entertainment.
A feasibility study from Sports Facilities Advisory estimated that the Hillsborough youth sports complex would generate an economic impact of $7.3 million in year one and $25 million and 43,800 hotel nights in its fifth year.