Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Betting Big on Sports Tourism

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Betting Big on Sports Tourism

Article excerpt

MANATEE COUNTY -- More than $64 million from public coffers has gone toward enhancing spring training stadiums and other amenities to keep Major League Baseball in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, most of that in the past four years.This week, Manatee County and the city of Bradenton are expected to invest $8 million more so that the 89-year-old McKechnie Field can get a roster of improvements designed to jazz up the historic venue that hosts the Pittsburgh Pirates.The move comes as sports offerings continue to broaden Southwest Florida's appeal to visitors, with rowing, tennis, soccer, lacrosse and other events becoming a larger slice of the tourism pie that is pumping millions of new dollars into the region's economy.Among the plans for McKechnie: a boardwalk with a tiki bar on the perimeter of the outfield; more concession stands; an upgraded sound system; a repaired grandstand roof; new and possibly more seating; and more add-ons that would make the field more fan- friendly."We're still working on the scope of it," said Trevor Gooby, the Pirates' director of Florida operations.Construction on the stadium at Ninth Street West in Bradenton would begin after this year's spring training season and be completed before the 2013 stint, when the Pirates and Bradenton will celebrate the city-owned stadium's 90th anniversary."I call it a win-win-win situation," said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Manatee County tourism bureau.Falcione believes the county, city and Pirates -- who enjoyed record-breaking attendance during 2011 spring training -- will all reap benefits under the plan that would be paid for through a unique city-county partnership.The project will be funded with county resort taxes levied on motel rooms and other short-term rentals, not property taxes. In other words, tourists will foot the bill.The Pirates, who had 88,000 tickets sold for 16 games at McKechnie, could then sell even more. Their minor league team, the Bradenton Marauders, also could attract more fans.In the end, the county and city will have a further enhanced asset that officials hope can be used to attract high school and collegiate tournaments, Falcione said."It's going to be more appealing" to those teams' athletic directors and promoters, he said.The Pirates have also agreed to boost their in-kind promotions of Manatee as a tourism destination from $150,000 each year to $400,000.That means even more radio ads and other promotions reaching Pirates fans in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland during the regular baseball season. Those promotions could translate into more visitors spending their dollars at Manatee's accommodations, attractions and restaurants.The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau will work with the Pirates on the expanded marketing strategy, Falcione said. …

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