County officials are hoping to build it and watch them come.
The Board of County Commissioners last Thursday unanimously approved adding an additional penny to the county bed tax beginning Oct. 1 in order to facilitate the addition, through expansion of existing facilities and new construction, of sports fields to the Tourist Development Council inventory.
The additional cent, which still must be approved by formal resolution of the BOCC, would bring the TDC bed tax collection to five cents.
The aim is to facilitate the creation of a joint county/city of Port St. Joe sports complex on land donated to the city by the St. Joe Company.
Additionally, the dollars – the additional penny would be leveraged for bond revenue – would assist in the expansion of existing parks, such as Honeyville Community Park, through the addition of sports fields.
Sports fields are big business in the Panhandle.
Each year the arrival tournament play in baseball, softball and soccer brings more than 500,000 room nights to Bay County and an annual economic impact to the community that exceeds $15 million.
During the past week Chipley has hosted a youth league World Series with roughly a dozen teams and the Washington County Tourist Development Council expects an economic impact to the county of over $300,000.
“These are big events for their communities,” said Jennifer Jenkins, executive director of the Gulf County TDC.
And, at least in the case of Chipley, there are few beaches or other amenities that Gulf County can offer, Jenkins said.
“We need to get to marketing those events as ‘sport-vacations’,” she said.
She said the TDC could include a youth athletic event packages which included amenities from a Dead Lakes excursion to a beach getaway.
The emphasis, Jenkins said, will be on creating multi-purpose fields on which soccer, softball, baseball and the fastest-growing youth sport, lacrosse, could be played.
Port St. Joe and county officials have long discussed the joint creation of a sports complex.
Such an effort was part of an interlocal agreement crafted in 2005 after the WindMark Beach Development of Regional Impact (DRI) process and review, with each governing body pledging more than half a million in funding and joint effort on acreage off U.S. Highway 98 near the Gulf/Franklin Center donated to the city.
However, as budgets were tested by shrinking revenue in the wake of the collapse of the real estate market in the ensuing years, county and city officials could not fund the effort and ultimately relieved themselves of the obligation when amending the interlocal agreement.
The extra bed tax penny is an allowable use of such funds and city and county officials, as well as the TDC advisory council, have all voiced at least tentative approval of the concept.
“I will formally put it to my council next week,” Jenkins said of next week’s monthly meeting. “I will have to have a scope of work (on how funds will be used).”
Jenkins calls the additional penny a “Parks and Recreation” penny.
“We have other parks we need to take of,” she said.
She said the county has many parks to which funds could be earmarked for expansion and beautification, part of providing a supply to meet tourist demand.
But doing so while maintaining the essence of the brand that is Gulf County.
“We have to have sustainable growth,” Jenkins said. “That is a primary focus.”