Destinations In The News: Southeast
Hot Spots & Hidden Gems
The Southeast has played host to a number of top-notch sporting events throughout the years thanks to the region’s unbeatable weather and sporting venues for all levels, said destination officials. From the sports history of Birmingham, Ala., to the wide-variety of venues available in sunny Florida, here’s a sneak peek into some of the region’s hottest destinations and venues in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana. In next week’s newsletter, you’ll learn more about Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia! To read the Southeastern focus in full in our February issue, CLICK HERE.
Alabama Gulf Coast
According to Beth Gendler, director of sales for the Alabama Gulf Coast CVB and Sports Commission, the Alabama Gulf Coast’s sports fields and facilities are top-notch. “We hear from every sporting event planner and from so many of the participants at all levels that our facilities are second to none.”
The CVB represents the cities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, both offering a variety of fields and facilities for sporting events. Orange Beach Recreation Center, featuring a gymnasium, a fitness center, a multipurpose room and game rooms, has hosted taekwondo, basketball and volleyball tournaments. In 2002, the facility debuted an aquatics center—featuring a junior Olympic-sized swimming pool and an 11-foot diving well—and a tennis center, featuring eight lighted medium-speed hard courts. Gendler said the tennis center hosts several USTA tournaments each year. Gulf Shores’ Johnnie Sims Park offers three baseball fields, one softball field, two outdoor basketball courts and a skate park. In addition to its existing 12 hard-surface courts, the George C. Meyer Tennis Center added six Rubico courts—four lighted, and a 5,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art tennis facility in August 2009.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach each has a multipurpose sportsplex that can accommodate a variety of sports. Gulf Shores Sportsplex includes a lighted football field and track with seating for 3,000, six softball fields, a baseball field, a soccer field and a multipurpose field. Orange Beach Sportsplex includes nine softball fields, two soccer fields and one multipurpose field. In 2009, the cities sportsplex facilities hosted the SEC Women’s Soccer Championships and the USSSA Global Baseball World Series—generating a combined economic impact of more than $3 million, according to Gendler. In addition, The Conference Center at The Wharf in Orange Beach, which opened in February 2009, offers 18,600 square feet of space for large group events. For more information, visit www.gulfshores.com.
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A modern city full of sports history and enthusiasm, the Greater Birmingham area is the ideal setting to host your next sporting event, said destination officials. Home to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and the headquarters of both the Southeastern Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference, the city knows sports and offers state-of-the-art facilities and 14,000 guest rooms for tournaments and events. One of the larger facilities in the area is Regions Park in Hoover, with 10,800 spectator seats at its one natural turf field that is also home to the minor league baseball Class AA Birmingham Barons. Other facilities include West Homewood Park in Homewood that features six baseball youth and three softball youth fields and room for 500 spectators; Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds that features 2.38 miles of track; and the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex with room for 17,000 spectators in its arena or exhibition halls. Swimming facilities in the area include Lakeshore Foundation with two pools—a four-lane, 24-meter pool and a 25-yard, eight-lane—and seating for 300 as well as Wald Park, which features 10-12 Olympic-length lanes and bleacher seating. For more information, visit www.birminghamal.org.
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If you are looking for a place to host your next sports event, Huntsville has everything you are looking for and more, according to Don B. Dukemineer, convention sales manager for the Huntsville/Madison County CVB. “Huntsville is an ideal location for a wide variety of sporting events. We’re here to make the job of sports event planners easy from the initial site visit, during the event and the all-important follow-up.” Huntsville has more than 55 baseball and 45 softball fields, including Joe Davis Stadium, which was renovated in 2009 and seats 10,200. The Metro Kiwanis SportsPlex features six lighted softball fields with portable mounds for baseball. John Hunt Soccer Complex features two championship fields and bleacher seating for up to 2,000, and Merrimack Soccer Complex offers 10 soccer fields as well. Other sports venues include the 30-court Huntsville Tennis Center, the Huntsville Natatorium, and the Benton H. Wilcoxon Municipal Ice Complex that features two rinks. In addition, Von Braun Center features 100,000 square feet of meeting space in South Hall, an arena with seating for 8,000 and a concert hall with seating for 1,950. For more information, visit www.huntsville.org.
North Little Rock
Shannon Harris, sports marketing representative for the North Little Rock Visitors Bureau, said North Little Rock is an easily accessible location for sports events. “We are located just off U.S. Interstates 30 and 40, and all of our fields and facilities are within a five- to 10-minute drive of lodging—making it very convenient to host a sports event here.”
Verizon Arena, which opened in 1999, has a seating capacity of 18,000 and serves as home of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. In March 2009, the arena hosted the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament, generating a $3.4 million economic impact, according to Harris. Dickey-Stephens Park, which was named Baseballparks.com’s Baseball Park of the Year in 2007, is home of the 2008 Texas League Champions, the Arkansas Travelers. Burns Park can accommodate a variety of sports—the park includes 17 soccer fields, 27 tennis courts—six indoor, two golf courses, nine baseball fields, five softball fields and two 18-hole disc golf courses. In addition, the park features 15 miles of hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails and hosted the 2009 Xterra South Central-Heart of Arkansas Cup. For more information, visit www.northlittlerock.org.
West of Little Rock in the city of Hot Springs, planners will find the 124,000-square-foot Summit Arena that allows seating for 6,000 for athletic events. Also, the Hot Springs region is known for its fishing, said destination officials with Lake Ouachita playing host to tournaments such as the Bassmaster’s series and Wal-mart Bass Fishing League BFL. For more information, visit www.hotsprings.org.
“Daytona Beach area’s year-round temperate climate, 23 miles of beaches and scenic inland waterways, as well as its unique collection of sport facilities and venues, make it a perfect sports destination,” said Tangela Boyd, senior media relations manager for the Daytona Beach Area CVB. The area’s beaches are world-famous for their hard-packed sands, which makes it perfect for walkathons and beach marathons, she said. Daytona International Speedway, which seats 168,000, has hosted the Daytona 500, Rolex 24 sports car race and the Coke Zero 400, among other races. Combined, the Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 generate a $240 million economic impact for the city each year, according to Boyd. Other sports venues include Daytona Beach Municipal Stadium, which hosts football games ranging from high school to university teams; Jackie Robinson Ballpark, opened in 1914 and renovated in 2007, seats 4,200; the LPGA International that serves as the headquarters for the Ladies Professional Golf Association; and the Florida Tennis Center—offering 24 clay hydro-courts, including 20 lighted courts—which hosted the Champion of Champions Tournament in January. In addition, the recently renovated Ocean Center Convention and Entertainment Complex features 164,000 square feet of total meeting space, including an exhibit hall, arena, meeting rooms and banquet hall. For more information, visit www.daytonabeachcvb.org.
Kissimmee’s location in the “heart of Florida” is one of the key reasons sports organizers choose to hold their amateur and professional events there, said Christopher F. Aguilar, senior sales representative for the Kissimmee CVB. “Plus, we have the world-famous theme parks right in on our backyard. Many sports organizers choose our destination because it offers event participants the opportunity to play at a championship level and also combine a vacation for their families.” Kissimmee offers a variety of indoor and outdoor facilities and flexible soccer and ball fields. Athletes can train and/or compete in virtually any sport during their visit, including soccer, football, baseball, softball, lacrosse, martial arts, gymnastics, archery, jump rope and more. For more information, visit www.visitkissimmee.com.
In nearby Lake Buena Vista, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex includes Champions Stadium, a 9,500-seat baseball stadium that also serves as the spring training facility for MLB’s Atlanta Braves. The complex also has venues that can accommodate tennis, softball, cheer and dance, track and field, and other events. Also, Silver Spurs Arena, which opened in 2003, seats 11,800 and hosts the annual Silver Spurs Rodeo, the largest PRCA-sanctioned event east of the Mississippi, as well as the Don King’s Super Saturday Boxing Championships in 2007 and the Great Florida Shootout National Invitational Basketball Tournament in 2009. Osceola Heritage Park’s Exhibition Building features 47,850 square feet of column-free space plus two separate meeting rooms. The 5,300-seat Osceola County Stadium is the spring training home of the MLB’s Houston Astros, and the Osceola County Softball Complex hosts the Kissimmee Spring Rebel Games each year, drawing some of the top collegiate softball programs in the country, Aguilar said. Austin-Tindall Regional Park is a multipurpose venue that can host soccer, rugby and flag football events, including the American Youth Football National Championships, which Aguilar said has generated $8 million in economic impact each year for the past three years. In addition, Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center, and Reunion Grande all feature meeting space. For more information, visit www.visitkissimmee.com.
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“The Other Side of Orlando” is Seminole County, a destination with “unbeatable” facilities for soccer, aquatics, softball and more, said Danny Trosset, sales and sports marketing manager, Seminole County CVB, who added that when you combine these facilities with the nearby top attractions in Orlando, beaches and countywide support staff you can ensure your next sports outing scores high. Some of the facilities in the county include the Merrill Park Softball Complex, a USA Softball National Training Center, Sanlando Park, which sees action like the U.S. Tennis Association Championships, and the Lake Brantley Aquatic Center, a training facility for Olympic-caliber athletes. For more information, visit www.visitseminole.com.
A sports- and budget-friendly dining option in Florida and in other Southeastern locations is Buca di Beppo, an authentic Italian restaurant with a family-styled menu designed for athletes to share entrees, salads, bread, etc. For more information, visit www.bucadibeppo.com. To see us in SportsEvents magazine, CLICK HERE.
Moving up to the Panhandle of the state, the Emerald Coast—Fort Walton Beach, Destin and Okaloosa Island—offers a unique set of sporting opportunities, including 1,080 holes of golf and fishing in clear blue waters. The Emerald Coast Conference Center, according to Sherry Rushing, CTIS, travel industry sales director for the CVB, offers 70,000 square feet of meeting space that is flexible to accommodate many types of sporting events. Also, more than 15,900 Gulf-edged guest rooms are available in the area for sports groups to take advantage of. Voted a “Top Tennis Resort” by Tennis Magazine and TennisResortsOnline.com, the TOPS’L Beach and Racquet Resort is a unique sports destination in Destin that offers 12 newly renovated Rubico Clay Tennis Courts, instructions from USPTA-certified tennis professionals and more. For more information, visit www.destin-fwb.com.
Panama City Beach
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Down the coast, Panama City Beach offers 320 days of sunny weather to enjoy their competitive sporting events, an array of water activities, some of Florida’s best public golf courses, fishing, eco-excursions and more, said Richard Sanders, vice president of sports marketing for the Panama City Beach CVB. Frank Brown Park, the premier sporting facility in the city, offers more than 200 acres of recreation and has hosted numerous national sporting events, including Grand Slam baseball and World Softball League events. Other facilities in the area include the 76-acre H.G. Harders Recreational Complex with five softball and two baseball fields, nine soccer/football fields, tennis courts, model boat pond, model plane airstrip and more; as well as the Lynn Haven Recreational Complex with a community center, six lighted ball fields, two football/soccer fields, three lighted tennis courts and more. The new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, opening in May 2010, will also open the city for a worldwide audience and allow for lower travel fares. For more information, visit www.visitpanamacitybeach.com.
The mix of the warm weather and sugar-white beaches make Pensacola one of the most beautiful destinations for sporting events, according to Sally Garst with Pensacola Sports Association. “Whatever you are looking for in your next sports venue, Pensacola has it.” Pensacola has venues for tennis, soccer, field hockey, flag football, softball, equestrian events and other sports. Roger Scott Tennis Center, expanded in 2009, offers 18 lighted, hard tennis courts and 10 clay courts, and was named USTA 2007 Florida Tennis Facility of the Year, Garst said. Ashton Brosnaham Park features 10 full-sized, lighted multipurpose fields for soccer, field hockey and flag football. The park will host the Pensacola Open Soccer Tournament in February and the Gulf South Conference Men’s and Women’s Soccer Championships and the Regional Flag Football Championships in November. Exchange Park and John R. Jones Park both offer four lighted softball fields and together have hosted the Softball Players Association Fall and Winter Nationals since 2004. The Escambia County Equestrian Center, a covered, all-weather arena, features a first-class cross-country course with two covered stables, three outdoor show rings, two exercise rings and a warm-up area. In addition, Garst said Pensacola Civic Center features 20,000 square feet of exhibition space and 13,000 square feet of meeting space and seats 10,000. The center has hosted USA Wrestling’s U.S. Olympic Trials (1998), the National Roller Skating Championships (2005) and served as the home of the East Coast Hockey League Ice Pilots from 1996 to 2008. For more information, visit www.pensacolasports.com.
Palm Beach County
Palm Beach County is a sports paradise with incomparable playing and training facilities, according to George Linley, executive director of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission. The county has hosted a number of major events and recently won the national bid to host the 2010 American Youth Soccer Association’s 2010 National Championships, which will bring more than 5,000 participants to the county in July. Major facilities in the area include the Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter—a baseball complex that is the only baseball facility outside of Arizona that consists of one primary baseball diamond and 12 supplementary practice fields with professional dimensions; and the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, home to the world’s largest croquet facility with lawns spanning four acres. The commission also offers the complimentary EZStay Event Service, a one-stop solution to facilitate all of a planner’s housing, registration and special request needs. For more information, visit www.palmbeachsports.com.
Bradenton offers visitors an “old-world feel,” according to Gentry Baumline-Robinson, public relations counsel for the Bradenton CVB. “Things move slower here,” she said. “There are miles of public beaches on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, with convenient parking and access, and only authentic, independent dining locales and mom-and-pop-style boutique resorts, cottages and vacation rentals—which offers visitors a unique stay.”
McKechnie Field, which opened in 1923 and completed a $20 million renovation in 2008, seats upwards of 6,500 fans. The venue is the home field of the local Bradenton Mauraders, part of the Florida State League for minor league baseball, and the spring training home of MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates, which plays several preseason games there each year. McKechnie Field also hosted the 2009 Big East/Big Ten Baseball Tournament in February 2009. Pirate City is a minor league complex, which serves as the complex’s training facility, that sits less than a mile down the road and hosts minor league spring training and other events, including the Heroes Baseball Club from Korea, the Netherlands National Team and players from the Sweden National Baseball Team. For meetings, Manatee Convention Center offers 32,400 square feet in the main hall and another 15,000 in the convention center, and can accommodate up to 4,000 people, Baumline-Robinson said. For more information, visit www.annamariaisland-longboatkey.com.
Gulf-front Collier County offers a part of Florida that is more “tropical and removed,” said Ralph P. Pryor, sports coordinator, Sports Council of Collier County. One impressive option in the county includes the 212-acre North Collier Regional Park, a state-of-the-art facility featuring five softball fields and eight multi-use fields perfect for soccer, lacrosse, football and field hockey, Pryor said. Adjacent to the park is the Sun and Fun Lagoon, a sprawling waterpark. Another multiuse facility in the region is the Golden Gate Community Park and Aquatic Center, featuring a large exercise pool, kid’s activity pool, and lighted tennis, racquetball, basketball, volleyball and shuffleboard areas. For more information, visit www.athletesinparadise.com.
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In the south Florida city of Hollywood, you can frolic on pristine beaches, stroll in a historic downtown or enjoy the “broadwalk”—one of America’s top ten nostalgic promenades. Sports facilities in the area include a number of city-run options, including the Driftwood Aquatic Complex—a 9,000-square-foot facility that features individual rooms for classes and a four-field athletic complex, concession stand, playground on artificial turf and parking lots—and Shuffleboard Courts. For more information, visit www.visithollywoodfl.org.
For those looking for the double whammy with a place to play and to stay, the Crowne Plaza Hollywood Beach has everything you need, according to Misty Pihronakis, director of sales and marketing. The hotel has hosted several types of sports groups in the past and is the official host hotel in South Florida for the Sun Conference. The hotel boasts 10,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including their 3,200-square-foot Waterway Pavilion, all complementing 300 guest rooms. For more information, visit www.cphollywoodbeach.com/.
Albany offers a “multitude” of venues for sports, all within driving distance of the city, according to Lisa Riddle, director of the Albany CVB. “The great thing about Albany is that traffic is not bad like in larger cities and our cost associated with events is lower than larger cities.” Local sports venues include Gordon Softball Complex and Paul Eames Baseball Field, which hosted the 2009 SIAC Men’s Baseball Championships, as well as the YMCA Sports Complex; Darton College’s PE Complex, featuring a 25-yard-by-25-meter pool, training room, aerobics and a 3,000-seat arena; Flint River Municipal Golf Course—host of the SIAC Men’s Golf Championship in 2008 and 2009; and Chehaw Park, which hosted the BMX Fall Classic in 2007 and 2008. Albany also hosted the Snickers Marathon Energy Bar Marathon and Half Marathon in March 2009, which Riddle said drew 1,440 participants from 34 states and three countries. For more information, visit www.AlbanyGa.com.
For any sport that you can name, Alpharetta has a facility for it, according to Katie Reeder, public relations manager for the Alpharetta CVB. “Perfectly nestled between the lush, green North Georgia Mountains and the sophistication of the dynamic, international city of Atlanta, Alpharetta provides some awesome options for sports events planners,” she said. The city has the capability to host events for baseball at North Park and Dobbs Creek Ball fields; soccer at the Windward Soccer Complex or South Forsyth Soccer Complex; football at Alpharetta High School or Milton High School; tennis at the Windward Tennis Center; or golf at Alpharetta Athletic Club or The Country Club of the South. For the past three years, Alpharetta has also hosted the Tour de Georgia cycling competition, which draws more than 80,000 fans each year, Reeder said. For more information, visit www.AwesomeAlpharetta.com.
Atlanta’s Cobb County
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Atlanta’s Cobb County has the bases covered when it comes to sports, said Rita Lowery, national sales manager, Cobb Sports Council. Cobb offers a world-class convention center, two conference centers, the Cobb Civic Center, an award-winning community center and the East Cobb Baseball Complex as well as the Al Bishop Softball Complex. These facilities have seen numerous sporting events, including the USSSA State Tournaments and World Qualifiers, as well as USA Track and Field Region II Championships. For more information, visit www.cobbcvb.com.
Atlanta itself was recently selected to be among the final 18 host cities that the USA Bid Committee would put forth in its bid submission to the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) to host either the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup. The city’s sports facilities range from the Georgia Dome—host to Super Bowl XXVIII and XXXIV, host of the gymnastics and basketball events for the 1996 Olympic Games and host to both a Men’s and Women’s NCAA Final Four—to the Atlanta Motor Speedway. For more information, visit www.atlantasportscouncil.com.
Dalton has the ability to cater to baseball, soccer, volleyball, cheerleading and golf, just to name a few, and that makes it a prime location for sports events, according to Dalton CVB Sales Manager Natahsa Colkmire. “Dalton has not only great sports venues but also the serene Blue Ridge Mountains, which provide a gorgeous backdrop to any sporting event or tournament.” The area’s facilities include Edwards Park Softball/Baseball Complex, Al Rollins Baseball Complex and Heritage Point Park Softball/Baseball Complex, which hosted the Softball Players Association National Championship Tournaments in 2008 and 2009, as well as the 10-court Lakeshore Park Tennis Complex, Nob North Golf Course and Dalton Soccer Complex. For more information, visit www.daltoncvb.com.
The commonwealth of Kentucky has a growing number of championship-quality sporting venues that sports event planners across the country—and even internationally—are taking note of. For instance, the cyclocross world championships will be held in the United States for the first time in 2013, when Louisville, Ky., hosts the event. The Louisville Sports Commission and the city are working to build a new venue for the event that will include a permanent flyover. For more information, visit www.teamky.com.
An integral part of sports in the state is TEAM Kentucky, a combination of communities and state entities that have come together to recruit and attract sporting events to the area. Louisville, in the North Central region of TEAM Kentucky, features not only the upcoming cyclocross venue, but also the Basketball Academy—featuring five professionally equipped hardwood basketball courts, a veteran management staff and on-court officiating—and Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. For more information, visit www.gotolousivlle.com.
The city of Lexington is also found in the North Central region and features a number of sporting venues to take note of, said John Pohl, senior destination sales account executive. Some of the largest venues in the city include the Rupp Arena with 23,000 seats, home of the University of Kentucky’s Men’s Basketball and Kentucky Horse Park, site of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. They also hosted the Bluegrass State Games, the commonwealth’s largest multi-sport competition with over 15,000 participants annually. For more information, visit www.visitlex.com.
Monroe-West Monroe is located on Interstate 20 between Jackson and Shreveport and is often referred to as the “Sportsman’s Paradise,” said Scott Bruscato, director of convention sales and sports marketing for the city’s CVB. The most comprehensive sports opportunities are found on the grounds of the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Fant-Ewing Coliseum, a basketball facility, is capable of seating up to 8,000 fans and features a recently renovated permanent wood surface court. Across the street is the Activity Center, which offers five basketball courts, eight volleyball courts and six racquetball courts. For more information, visit www.monroe-westmonroe.org.
New Orleans has hosted more major sporting events across a spectrum of categories than any other destination: a record nine Super Bowls, some of the greatest NCAA finals and championships, the annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic, the Bassmaster Classic and more, said destination officials. Their sports facilities span just as long, from the Louisiana Superdome and its neighbor the New Orleans Arena to award-winning golf courses and wetlands of the Mississippi River for water-based events. Another major facility include the Bayou Segnette Sports Complex, nestled adjacent to Bayou Segnette State Park and minutes from downtown that includes the John A. Alario Sr. Event Center, the Alario Center Festival Grounds and Segnette Field. For more information, visit www.gnosports.com.
St. Tammany Parish, north of New Orleans, is quickly becoming known for its recreational sports venues, according to Tanya Leader, sales director for Louisiana Northshore sports and marketing. “Our area offers big city amenities with small town charm,” she said. Pelican Park, which opened in 1990, offers 32 fields for soccer, baseball and flag football, as well as several gymnasiums, a skateboard park and a 46,000-square-foot multipurpose building. The facility has hosted AAU Junior Olympic competitions for table tennis, wrestling, weightlifting, power lifting and flag football. Slidell Bantam Baseball Association operates 12 baseball fields throughout the parish, drawing such events as the 20th Anniversary Pony National Slow-Pitch Tournament in 2008.
Coquille Sports Complex, located in Madisonville, features seven baseball fields, three softball fields, one football field and two gymnasiums. The complex hosted the Southern Exposure Softball Tournament in 2009 and will host a lacrosse clinic later this year, according to Leader. Other area facilities include Northshore Harbor Center, which features 45,000 square feet of space and hosted the AAU Mardi Gras Extravaganza for Baton Twirling and the Dance USA Regional Competition in 2009, and Greater Covington Center, which features a 490-seat auditorium. For more information, visit www.LouisianaNorthshore.com.