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Alachua County Sports and Events Center in Celebration Pointe set to open May 27

A 92,000-square-foot multipurpose facility in Alachua County plans to change the culture of sports one athlete at a time with its reopening on May 27.

Construction of the $38 million Alachua County Sports and Events Center in Celebration Pointe was funded by the county’s Tourist Development Tax. The facility will work with the state of Florida and Viking Inc. to host sports and events. The center’s management company, RADDSports, helps with finances, plans and design.

“The facility was a community effort so it’s our job to give back to the community,” RADDSports CEO Richard Blalock said.

Blalock stressed the importance of sports in today’s world as they are beginning to take the place of what retail stores used to bring to a community. Aside from hosting events and sports, the sports complex will create an economic impact for the area's hotels and restaurants.

“Malls and in-person stores are starting to lose attraction because of online shopping,” he said. “So now developers cannot rely on retail anymore to bring people here.”

It is common to see that after events held at the venue, many families will disperse around Celebration Pointe to try various restaurants in the development. This phenomenon was seen predominantly with the Nike store across the street from the facility.

“During our track events, Nike saw a 59% spike in sales,” Blalock said.

“Sports not only bring people together to celebrate the action, but they make people feel excited, especially in this town,” 24-year-old Remy Suarez said. “I’m sure a facility like this is important for economic foot traffic as well.”

But with stores being online, it has become harder for places in the area to attract in-person customers. This facility seeks to draw people who may shop nearby after attending an event.

“Better yet, mom and dad may want to have a drink at Spurrier’s while their kid is at practice or pick up a pizza from MidiCi on the way home from an event,” Blalock said.

These trends were visible during the facility's partial opening this past year during the indoor track season. The sports complex hosted 12 events but had to limit the number of participants due to seating and construction.

“Sports administration and tourism are crossing over to be where sports is now a tourist destination,” Blalock said.

There was a strong push to hold track events at the facility even though it was still under construction so the venue could position itself to become a world stage for track events.

“Our hope is to eventually get into the SEC track indoors rotation,” he said. “Additionally, we’re actually right now in the process of bidding on the future USA Track and Field Masters and the world's event.”

The venue has the potential to host 3,000 to 4,000 athletes for a national event, Blalock said. An international event hosted at the sports complex  could accommodate 4,000, 5,000 or maybe even 6,000 athletes, he said.

“We anticipate Olympians coming and training here,” Blalock said.

Locally, the facility has already caught the eye of coaches from the University of Florida.

“Coach Wise has booked some dates for her volleyball camp and Coach Kelly is looking to hold basketball clinics and that type of stuff here,” Blalock said. “Working with coaches from UF ultimately helps us because kids look up to those athletes and coaches, and now we're really getting into the community aspect.”

Mary Wise is the University of Florida’s volleyball team coach, and Kelly Rae Finley is the women’s basketball coach at the university.

The facility is also working on partnering with UF Health to provide a rehab clinic at the center. The center also plans to have strength and conditioning athletic trainers and coaches to work with its kids.

Beyond sports, the facility operates as a space to host entertainment events unrelated to sports.

“United Way booked their gala with us, and we are in talks with a family about a bat mitzvah and talking to a family about a wedding,” Blalock said. “Not only is this designed to be used for sports but home shows, boat shows and a whole bunch of other things than just athletics.”

On May 27, the facility will host the Jumaine Jones Spring Invitational, a basketball tournament. This will be the first official non-track event.

The event will include a street party with a DJ, a shooting competition and food trucks for people attending.

The facility plans to hold local community programs to teach sports such as basketball, volleyball, cheer, pickleball, baseball, softball and more. Meanwhile, Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be its designated days for events.

Skill-based programs will be offered to youth who are making their way in the sports world. Some of these programs include prep, developmental, competitive and club programs.

“Our whole mission is to get the youth positioned socially, athletically, and academically,” Blalock said. “Coming out of a global pandemic, if we don’t get them socially adjusted we’re in trouble. More importantly, they’re in trouble.”   

Caleb Edney, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of South Florida’s psychology program, was recently visiting his friends in Gainesville and spent the afternoon walking around Celebration Pointe.

He noted the importance of the venue’s effect on the youth in Alachua County.

“The youth of the United States have been through a lot in the past three to four years with COVID, so this had led to reliance, in fact, an over-reliance on technology,” he said. “When we put this in the context of sports, I believe that sports are a necessity for a lot of youth because they build on skills that are hard to develop in other domains of life.”

Edney thought back to his times playing football in his youth and emphasized the lessons people can take away from partaking in sports aside from developing athletic abilities.

“Sports give the opportunity to develop special skills that are not offered in other aspects of life, and this is the main reason that opening a center in Gainesville would be so beneficial and imperative to the wider community in Gainesville,” he said.

Blalock said it is not only important to understand the foundation of sports and how they work to improve as an athlete but also for an individual potentially preparing for a career in the sports industry as a non-athlete.   

“We’re developing a sports administration program to tap into the sports management side of sports,” Blalock said. “Kids will be able to learn how to score keep, keep stats, how to plan in events and how to communicate sports.”

The opening of the Alachua County Sports and Events Center will be more than a facility opening. It will be a new world of sports opportunities for athletes and the region's youth, he said.

“Sports give the opportunity to develop special skills that are not offered in other aspects of life and this is the main reason that opening a center in Gainesville would be so beneficial and imperative to the wider community in Gainesville,” Edney said.

Correction appended: A previous version of this story stated that the events center is in Gainesville, which is not technically true. Celebration Pointe lies just outside of city limits in unincorporated Alachua County along Interstate 75.

Dianne is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.