The SODA Blog

The official blog of the Sportsplex Operators & Developers Association

County approves $31M sports park budget !

TDC officials said they hope to break ground some time in early 2018, and the project will take an estimated 395 days to complete.

PANAMA CITY — The green light has been given to construct a major new sports park in Panama City Beach after more than a year of delays caused by project costs greatly exceeding initial estimates.

The Bay County Commission on Tuesday approved of a modified $31.4 million design of the sports park, which should offer lacrosse, soccer, softball, baseball, playgrounds, trails for biking or walking and a ropes course.

Consultants initially estimated the park would cost between $30 million and $35 million, and they were hoping to have the park open by Spring Break 2018. But the project was brought to a temporary halt after the winning bid, from Phoenix Construction, came in at $51.5 million.

For months, Phoenix Construction owner James Finch, TDC officials and their consultants have discussed ways to scale back the costs to reach a figure close to initial estimates without affecting the goal of the park being “world class.”

The latest plan calls for awarding Phoenix a $23.8 million contract. The firm would do earthwork, paving, concrete walkways, utilities, underground electrical improvements, park lights, sports lighting and the construction of four turf fields. The TDC is slated to pay about $7.6 million more for buildings, technology, artificial turf and other expenditures associated with the project.

TDC Executive Director Dan Rowe said ultimately, they were able to scale back the project costs without hurting the quality of the project.

“We simplified a number of the buildings,” he said. “We made some changes to the layout of some of the fields.”

A new set of plans now will have to be drawn up, Rowe said.

TDC officials said they hope to break ground some time in early 2018, and the project will take an estimated 395 days to complete.

The TDC also was able to cut costs by building a two-lane instead of a four-lane road through the project. Rowe told commissioners, however, that enough land will be set aside for a four-lane road, and the St. Joe Co. will be approached about adding another lane to it later.

“Essentially the road will be built to a four-lane roadway in the future,” he said.

County Commissioner Robert Carroll said the original $51 million bid was “a hard pill to swallow,” but cost cutting has made the project feasible now.

Carroll also said the entire project is being funded by the county’s bed tax.

“Therefore, there is no burden on the taxpayers of Bay County to make all the debt service,” he said.

The TDC also is setting aside land for a potential indoor facility to be built as part of the sports park. The TDC has asked Triumph Gulf Coast for $20 million in oil spill funds to pay for that.

“The indoor facility would just diversify the economy even more,” said Philip “Griff” Griffitts, a county commissioner who chairs the TDC.

The commission also:

• Approved a zone change on 142 acres in the Sand Hills area that would allow Finch to develop a go-kart track for his son that eventually would be open to the public. The property at 215 Hatcher Drive is in a public/institutional zoning district, previously owned by the city of Lynn Haven with the intent to use it for a public use.

• Approved Lynn Haven’s requested amendment to an application for $450,000 in RESTORE oil spill funds for Porter Park improvements. Because of the sequencing of the project, the city already has made improvements to the ramp, docks and seawall before the U.S. Treasury’s approval of the grant application. The city has asked that the application be amended so the funds instead could be spent on future restrooms, pavilions, parking and playground equipment.

• Approving hiring Bryant and Higby as local counsel in the county’s future lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies in the opioid crisis. Perry and Young had lobbied for the job. Harrison Rivard also was interested in taking the case but wrote in a recent letter that it was no longer vying for the job.

• Agreed to come back at its next meeting to outline the Triumph Gulf Coast pre-applications that commissioners believe should be funded. The commission, with Guy Tunnell dissenting, has been hesitant to take a position.

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