While baseball and soccer have been Polk Sports Marketing's bread and butter, the Polk County Commission learned recently that the organization also has it eyes on Olympic prizes.

While bringing the county board up-to-date on its needs last month, Polk Sports Marketing Director Mark Jackson also told commissioners his team is in negotiations with sub-Olympic organizations that could lead to medal-winning catches in the future.

Topping Jackson's $18 million shopping list of sports venue improvements were baseball and soccer fields, but he subtly let the board know he's “working on an agreement now” that could base the Pan-American Lacrosse Association's headquarters at or near the county's Lake Myrtle Sports complex near Auburndale.

“We've been talking with the association for about a year-and-a-half,” Jackson said.

He did not say how soon those negotiations would be finalized, but suggested it shouldn’t be too much longer.

Some of the $4 million in proposed Lake Myrtle field improvements include beefing up its stadium to 2,500 seats, a VIP suite area, new locker rooms, storage facilities and a press box that will accommodate not only soccer, but the lacrosse group and the USA Rugby League. Those improvements are being paid for solely with Tourism Development Council funds.

Both the lacrosse association and the rugby league are independent associations that reportedly function to feed the U.S. Olympic teams.

The Lake Myrtle Water Sports Complex would also house another feeder to the U.S. Olympic delegation with the Water Ski and Wake Sports Association, Jackson explained.

Also on the list of sports things-to-build were raising and building four new baseball fields at the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes Park, which would have a total cost of about $7 million — $5 million of which would be drawn from the sports marketing group's budget, with the rest picked up by the City of Winter Haven.

“This will be an adjunct to the ongoing development of the Chain of Lakes Park's new field house facilities,” he said.

Jackson said the four fields need to be raised because heavy rains are prone to flood the fields, making them periodically unusable.

The Northeast Regional Park Baseball Complex would also get about $2.5 million, supplemented by another $5 million from the county's Parks and Recreation Department, to add baseball fields and lighting to bring that facility up to snuff.

Most of the improvements proposed include adding lights to all the major parks, thus giving additional playing time and accommodating more teams, the marketing chief said.

“Without renovations and expansion, the county will lose existing high-profile sports,” he continued. “We're at risk of losing business if we can't keep up with the demand.”

Last year for example, he said, one baseball group used fields in Osceola County “because we didn't have enough.”

That group, the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational, plans on an additional 50 games in their next event this spring, which boosts their need for both fields and accommodations. That group alone, Jackson told commissioners, pumped more than $50 million in to the local economy.

“They generated about 30,000 hotel room stays last year,” Jackson said.

He added that need would also rise as sports activities increased, resulting in the development of more hotels, motels or accommodations.

“It's a cycle and one leads to the other,” he said.

The Polk Sports Marketing group is an arm of the county's Tourism Development Council, a nine-member board with the sole purpose of bringing both tourists and athletes to Polk County.


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