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Manatee County Could Take Deal to Run Premier Sports Campus

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LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. (WWSB)--Manatee County could soon become the new owner of the Primer Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch.

The growth in east Manatee County is unparalleled on the Suncoast, leading commissioners to expand the number of schools, libraries and parks.

Now the developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch is offering to sell the Premier Sports Campus to the county.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore called it a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"The fastest growing area is north county and east. And now we have to provide the infrastructure for them," Whitemore said. "Kids from all over the state and all over the country travel down here for events and as you probably have heard the Olympic teams have practiced here, so it's one-of-a-kind in the state of Florida,"

The 127 acre campus is a sports destination. Estimated at a value of $20 million, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch is offering to sell it to the county for just $5.2 million. As part of the deal, an additional 36 acres north of the site would be added for future expansion, specifically a public aquatics center.

Right now, the only county-owned swimming pool is 17 miles away at G.T. Bray Park.

"We've been desperately looking for a spot to be able to do that and this is going to work out just perfect," Whitmore said.

It's all part of a booming industry on the Suncoast called sports performance.

Nationally, the sports facility advisory reports youth sports and sports performance have become a $7 billion industry. Last year, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Council reports the industry generated $ million dollars for the county.

Jacki Dizelski is the president and CEO of the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce. She says the community has a unique niche with sports.

"Tourism dollars generate a strong economic impact for our local economy and the sports performance industry is part of those tourism dollars," Dizelski said.

It's an impact Dizelski says bleeds over into our entire local economy with athletes and their families spend money on things like hotels, retail and restaurants. 

"Even athletes that come to participate in sports east of I-75 end up finding beautiful pockets of our community to visit on the west of I-75," "They want to see our beaches, they want to go shopping, they want to enjoy local restaurants that you'll find in every corner of Manatee County."

It's still not clear if all of the commissioners are on board with the offer or how the campus would be paid for, although Whitmore is proposing a mix of tourism tax dollars and impact fees. She hopes the offer won't be overlooked.

"As far as I'm concerned, this commissioner supports it and I'm hoping we'll move forward with it. If not, we have to find another place to have a park and again this is land we would never be able to afford. So it's a win win for everybody," Whitemore said.