When Jase Payne came to work as marketing manager at the Gulfport Sportsplex, he was surprised at the number of visitors it draws.
▪ Teams hosted in 2016: 2,644
▪ Players, coaches and spectators: 79,320
▪ Estimated hotel room nights: 31,700
That number will only grow when the Gulfport Sportsplex becomes one of the biggest in the region, hopefully in time for the start of spring baseball in 2018. Construction was supposed to be finished this spring, but wetlands and other issues caused delays.
Leisure Services Director David D’Aquilla said the city is reviewing bids for the construction of concession stands and restrooms; realigning a road; and adding sidewalks and utilities. He said work is about 85 percent finished on land clearing and elevation.
The city is adding six baseball/softball fields for a total of 15. Two new all-purpose fields for soccer and football will give the city a total of six.
All the new baseball/softball fields will have artificial turf and LED lighting. The all-purpose fields also will have LED lighting.
D’Aquilla said the city can now host a 60-team event for one weekend, whereas 90 teams will be able to play when the fields are added.
“We’re not going to be the largest, but we’re going to be in the upper tier of facilities that can handle larger tournaments at one location,” D’Aquilla said. “We feel like we’re a really big piece of economic development for the city of Gulfport.”
Payne is already working to attract more high school and college tournaments. He’s got a new selling point, too. The Sports Turf Managers Association has named Champs Field at the Gulfport Sportsplex the Softball Field of the Year in its schools and parks category.