By Ken Jackson
The current Osceola County Softball complex will close in 2019 and a new one will be built in the northwest corner of the county closer to an inventory of hotel rooms, facility and county officials have confirmed.
The county projects that the current complex, off John Young Parkway just south of Osceola Parkway, will operate until Oct. 1, 2019, when a new facility proposed by LifeSports USA, which is in the business of building and developing athletic villages, is constructed on a much-maligned parcel of land.
The 217 acres on the south side of West U.S. Highway 192 are bordered on the east by State Road 429 and on the south by Funie Steed Road, located just east of the under-construction Margaritaville mega-development. It would provide ample space to build eight to 10 softball or baseball fields, including a stadium feature that could seat 1,000 fans, as many as a dozen multipurpose fields featuring grass or artificial turf, a clubhouse, training facility, athlete’s village, team meeting space and eventually expansion commercial parcels, a hotel or apartments.
That flexibility just isn’t there at the current complex, which opened in 1996. It’s five fields and eight batting cages, open six days a week, are now landlocked by other retail, commercial and residential developments that have sprung up around it over the last 20 years.
“When we did an analysis (2016) we realized we can’t expand there like we have at Austin-Tindall Park (which just added new football fields and a stadium that will debut on Aug. 17),” said Osceola County Community Development Director Dave Tomek, whose office oversees the operation of county sports facilities. “This new facility gives us the opportunity to do something similar to what was done there. The stadium feature was something we were really pushing for.”
Softball Facility Manager Kevin Ostrowski referred all inquiries about the matter to the county. Tomek said the current facility will continue to book events into the fall and operate at its current level through 2019.
Under the public/private partnership, LifeSports USA would purchase the West 192 land — where its negotiations currently sit — and construct the facility for $20 million. The county would then purchase the fields, parking areas and maintenance facilities, and LifeSports would continue to operate and manage it, Tomek said, noting that the sale of the current complex land would go toward the purchase price. Tourist Development Tax dollars would make up the rest, and Tomek said the county has industry’s blessing to spend that money.
“We’ve gotten the support from the tourism industry, as there is an inventory of nearby hotel rooms in that area,” he said. “And, it’s right around the corner from Disney, creating the added capability to partner with them on some events.”
On the project’s website, LifeSports maintains it would generate 150,000 room nights, but county staff said they must be in Osceola County to be counted toward any benchmarks.
Tomek said that current complex staff would be offered other employment within the county or at the new LifeSports complex, much like the Osceola County Stadium staff were when SMG, who manages and operates the rest of the Osceola Heritage Park facilities, is scheduled to take over ballpark operations this October.
The new complex is the second major project planned for that West 192 parcel. In 2017, a motorsports park was proposed, but lacked backing after residents who live just to the south of the land complained about the expected noise it would generate.
Since opening in 1996, the Osceola County Softball Complex has been home to local competitive and recreational leagues and hosted premier softball teams and events, like the 2000 Olympic Gold Medal USA Women’s Softball squad’s pre-Olympic training, the collegiate Rebel Spring Games and the Kissimmee Klassic, a premier annual high school tournament that has attracted the state’s top squads, now called the Roger Jones Classic.