Those big mounds of dirt near Cypress Garden Boulevard and U.S Highway 27 are a bit unsightly at the moment.
But they are a beautiful thing, at least if you're Mark Jackson, who can already envision what the impact of the field house being built there will be.
Jackson, as the head of the county group that spends much of its time globetrotting to sell Polk as a sports and recreation destination for everything from softball to pistol shooting, knows the frustration his workers have felt at not having the right property to attract national, high profile events.
Sure, the NBA G-League's Lakeland Magic will call it their practice home, but that is small potatoes compared to what Jackson expects the facility will bring as a return on the $23 million investment.
In fact, county officials are predicting that is about what the direct economic impact the facility will have in the greater Winter Haven area every year.
“I don’t think people realize how much of a game changer a building like this can be, not just for us here at PCTSM, but for Winter Haven as well,” Jackson said. “Polk County has a deficit of available court time for sports. Nowhere is that more evident than Winter Haven, where residents participate in indoor sports at only 60 percent of the national average. Right now, we can’t compete with other venues for some indoor sports, for example, volleyball. The field house broadens the scope of the sports we can recruit. That is a need, not a want. ”
Slated to be opened in late 2019, its addition to the Polk portfolio is a natural extension of the city's growth since the opening of Legoland, especially things like lodging and restaurants which continue to pop up here and around East Polk.
“Winter Haven already has everything the meeting or convention planner looks for,” said Jackson. “Plenty of rooms at every budget, great local restaurants and niche taverns, a variety of activities for attendees and a central location between two major airports. We add to the mix a professional staff who can ensure that their event is a world-class experience. All we needed to add to the mix was a building.”
Even still, success isn't always guaranteed with such buildings, Jackson admits. But in Polk's case, those concerns are mitigated greatly because they know the need is there.
“If you build it, they will come, that's not true. There's a lot of facilities going bankrupt simply because they didn't have a good business plan or demand in hand. We have both,” Jackson, a Winter Haven resident himself, said. “It's going to provide an economic engine, a sustainable economic engine that will never, ever go away as long as we market it properly.”
In other words, about those mounds, call them our dirt piles of dreams.