County on road to play ball with USSSA


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Space Coast Stadium in Viera could become the national headquarters for the USSSA.

Photo by Mike Gaffey

It’s game on for the Brevard County Commission and the United States Specialty Sports Association.

Commissioners voted 4-1 on May 26 to approve a memorandum of understanding to forge an agreement with the USSSA to move the amateur sports organization’s national headquarters from Kissimmee to Space Coast Stadium in Viera. 

Under terms of the agreement, if approved, Brevard would spend $10 million in hotel tax revenue on upgrades to the stadium and its surrounding training complex. Brevard would build eight new artificial-turf fields, convert another natural-grass field to artificial turf, add lighting for night games and 600 seats and a concession stand at an existing practice field.  

In return, the USSSA would sign a 20-year lease with the county, host at least 175 youth and amateur sports events a year, and guarantee at least 75,000 nights of hotel room rentals in its first year in Brevard and 100,000 annual room rentals by its third year. The USSA also would agree to take over maintenance of the complex, pay $250,000 for annual capital improvements and set aside 75 days for county- or community-sponsored events at the stadium.

USSSA representative Bill James said the organization, which has 4 million members and has called Osceola County Stadium home for the past decade, looked at several Central Florida communities, but chose Brevard because of its location and its access to airports and interstate highways. 

“And you’ve got the ‘wow’ factor,” James said. “You have the beaches, the space program, the port and a great inventory of hotels with reasonable rates.”

USSSA chairman and chief executive officer Don DeDonatis said the 48-year-old organization had an economic impact of $37 million in Osceola County in 2013.

Commissioner Trudi Infantini, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said she opposed spending taxpayer money to bring amateur sports to the stadium while the owner of Cocoa Expo, at State Road 520 just west of Interstate 95, was spending his own money to do the same. She questioned why DeDonatis wanted to leave Kissimmee.

“We’re looking for growth,” DeDonatis replied. “We can’t seem to find that where we are now.”

DeDonatis said he hopes to start baseball and softball in Viera by late 2016, then add soccer and lacrosse when new fields are ready.

Space Coast Stadium hosts the Washington Nationals for spring training and the Brevard County Manatees, a Class A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers that plays 71 Florida State League games in Viera. But the Nationals plan to move to West Palm Beach after the 2016 or 2017 spring season and will share a new stadium with the Houston Astros, which are leaving Kissimmee. 

The Manatees are considering moving from Viera as well. A proposal to build a new stadium in downtown Melbourne recently fell through, but the Manatees have approached Palm Bay about the possibility of erecting a stadium at U.S. 1 and Port Malabar Boulevard.

DeDonatis said although the two sides haven’t talked, he hopes to work together with the Manatees. His sentiments were echoed by Commissioner Curt Smith, who said he’d like to see cooperation between the USSSA and the Manatees.

 “The Manatees don’t put many heads in beds,” Smith said, referring to hotel room rentals. “But they add to the culture of Brevard.”

James noted that the Florida Pride, USSSA’s professional fast-pitch softball team, would begin play in Viera and that several of their 35 home games would be televised.

Several Brevard hotel and business owners expressed support for the proposal. Hotel owner Tom Hermanson of Cocoa Beach said youth sports “is one of the best returns on investment that you can get.”

“Those girls who play fast-pitch softball, they don’t travel alone,” he said. “They don’t get sent down here from Wisconsin by themselves. Mom, Dad and brother Timmy all come along. They come down here and they stay for a week and they spend a lot of money at restaurants and stores and hotels and everything else.”