The City of Newberry had high hopes when Nations Park, a 16-stadium baseball tournament complex, one of the largest in the country, opened in 2012.
Under the management of Lou Presutti, the park was expected to hold regular
four-day tournaments with at least 30 teams. He also signed a contract to create 21 new jobs.
After two years, Presutti produced only a “handful” of small tournaments and created two jobs, said Conrad.
After Presutti failed to fulfill his contract, the city commission decided to bring in
new management, Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad said.
Mike Spina, owner of Elite Pro Ball Academy in Newberry and a former baseball
player, was selected as the new management director of the park. Shortly after, the name of the complex was changed from Nations Park to Champions Park.
“We wanted to get rid of all the memories of Nations Park and market it under a new name,” Conrad said.
Champions Park’s contract was updated after Spina was appointed as the new manager, which was discussed at the commission meeting on Aug. 25. The new contract included requirements to create three jobs by December 2014 and hold three tournaments by January 2015.
Spina said the three jobs (groundskeeper, tournament director and manager) will be created by the end of September. He said he has seven or eight events scheduled for the fall, and he’s working on scheduling events for next spring that will bring over 50 teams to the area.
“We’ve got some huge organizations coming in that are going to hold some very national-exposure tournaments with a lot of teams,” Spina said.
So far, Champions Park has hosted two small tournaments as a trial run to see what fits in the park, Spina said.
Newberry City Commissioner, Jordan Marlowe, said planning for baseball tournaments is usually done a year in advance, so most of the success of the park will be visible at the end of the year.
“The fact that they’ve had two tournaments and are advertising and taking deposits on six more,” Marlowe said, “I think that’s the tangible evidence we have that they’re working a little bit more industriously than our previous management group.”
Conrad said Champions Park, which is funded by Alachua County, was created to increase tourism. The City of Newberry received $7 million from hotel bed taxes to build the baseball complex and subsequently generate business for hotels and restaurants in the area.
A hotel bed tax is a 14 percent tax paid when a person stays at a hotel in Alachua County.
Additionally, Newberry received $700,000 as a grant from the Department of Economic Opportunity to build infrastructure, such as installing sewer lines on the baseball fields. A condition of the grant was that 21 jobs had to be created after the fields were up and running.
“We ran out the time limit last summer, and Mr. Presutti never created sufficient jobs,” Conrad said. “We’re optimistic that with Spina we’re going to be able to create those jobs and satisfy the requirements of the grant.”