April 20, 2017

Babcock’s Perfect Game plan not so perfect for Lee County

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

PATRICIA BORNS , Published 5:44 p.m. ET April 19, 2017 | Updated 4 hours ago

Andres Santana, of Miami FL

Photo by Jack Hardman/The News-Press. Perfect Game generates millions for the Lee County economy. The county is looking to see if it is feasible to build more fields to expand Perfect Game’s foot print. Andres Santana, of Miami FL, hits a pop fly while competing in the 2016 Perfect Game National Showcase at JetBlue Park on Thursday.

It sounded like a field of dreams come true – a gift of 300 acres from Babcock Ranch developer Syd Kitson to create a sports dynamo with Perfect Game in north Lee County.

But the benefits of building 40 ball fields plus stadiums for the highly successful youth baseball business on that site aren’t as rosy as they at first seemed, a county study finds.

“It’s a very expensive proposition,” Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said. “We know what it costs to build one ball field. We don’t know much about the 300 acres, but we do know the estimate to build 40 fields is between $50 to $70 million. Is that the best use of the dollars we have?”

Babcock, Florida’s first planned solar city straddling northeast Lee and southeast Charlotte counties, had offered to donate the land last year if the county would pay to transform it into the  40-field complex. The fields would be leased by Perfect Game and maintained by the county. On-site hotels and entertainments built by the developer would generate sports tourism revenue, Babcock proposed.

Perfect Game baseball generates, earns millions

But after looking at Lee’s sports assets and local as well as regional needs, the commissioned study by Victus Advisors concludes there’s no need for one large sports complex on Babcock land.

Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association Underclassmen World Championship

Special to the News-PressFort Myers’ Terry Parks this week plays host to the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association Underclassmen World Championship of top high school teams. (Photo: Picasa)

Desjarlais and his staff met with the Babcock team in early April to say thanks but no thanks.

“If we build 40 fields on Babcock, we start cannibalizing our own facilities,” Desjarlais explained. We decided to change our current course.”

Babcock, which has an application pending for developing its Lee land, will be changing course, too.

“We’re working through that right now,” Kitson said. “ Where the fields are is going to be residential, our mixed use would grow further north toward the Charlotte County line.”

The news came as a relief to some Babcock neighbors who weren’t keen about commercializing the rural intersection of North River Road and State Road 31 with 40 ball fields.

“We just felt there were far too many of them,” Alva resident Ruby Daniels said. “The big question now is what happens to those 300 acres.”

Among the Victus Advisors study’s top recommendations for the county’s sports facilities:

Babcock sets sights on one of Lee County’s last open spaces

  • Grow the Player Development Complex on Edison Avenue  to eight or more adult baseball diamonds, and beef up the lights on all fields.
  • Ball fields are built in clusters of eight, not 40, study experts advised. A new county complex of eight, tournament-grade fields should serve many purposes – the main one, soccer,
  • Indoor sports from wrestling to basketball should get a future lift, too, including up to eight basketball courts that can be converted for volleyball play.
  • In all, invest in 19 new fields; eight dedicated to youth baseball and softball, eight for multi-uses and three for adult baseball.
  • Also strongly recommended: a specialized ball field with a rubberized surface for Miracle League athletes.