East-South Central

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Come On Down

18 Jul, 2018

By: Michael Popke
Southern Hospitality, Sports and a Whole Lot More

Certain regions of the country are known for many things, but when you think of the Southeast, one phrase immediately comes to mind.

“Hoover is the home of Southern hospitality,” proclaims Monty Jones Jr., general manager of the Hoover (Alabama) Metropolitan Complex — a large multi-purpose indoor/outdoor complex near Tuscaloosa. “We’ll make you not want to go anywhere else.”

Other Southeastern destinations make similar claims, which gives Hoover plenty of competition. But it also provides sports event planners a bounty of options with diverse venues, easy-to-reach locations and passionate local sports organizations. From ball sports to water sports, this corner of the country provides the hosting solutions you’re seeking.

Rutherford County, Tennessee:
“Sports Capital of Tennessee”

There’s a reason sports tourism officials in Rutherford County, located near Nashville, refer to it as the “Sports Capital of Tennessee.” The county provides 39 fields for tournaments, including Murfreesboro’s Richard Siegel Soccer Complex, a 16-field facility on 137 acres. “This is one of the premier soccer facilities in the Southeast and hosts local, state, regional and professional soccer competitions,” says Shana Miller, director of communications and marketing for the Rutherford County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Additionally, thanks to a partnership between the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department and Middle Tennessee State University, Adams Tennis Complex offers eight indoor and 24 outdoor courts. McKnight Park and Star Plex provide baseball, softball, soccer and football fields, and in 2020, a new 120-acre park on Murfreesboro’s west side will house baseball fields and multi-purpose turf fields, making the area even more suitable for national tournaments, Miller says.

Macon & Bibb County, Georgia:
Tennis, Anyone?

Macon has emerged as a tennis hot spot, too, thanks to the John Drew Smith Tennis Center. This 24-court complex hosts numerous tournaments ranging from city championships to professional tour events. Additionally, the recently opened South Bibb Recreation Center offers tennis courts, basketball courts, an outdoor pool and baseball and softball fields, as well as the 9,000-seat Macon Coliseum, which accommodates hockey, arena football, wrestling, basketball and more.

A local option sales tax has resulted in the renovation or construction of multiple recreation centers, boosting Bibb County’s ability to host a greater diversity of events, according to Aaron Buzza, vice president and chief operating officer of development for Visit Macon. “We’re a smaller city with a bigger-city feel because we have the resources and amenities that you would expect to see in a larger community,” he says.

Lake County, Florida:
Water Sports and More

As its name implies, Lake County is home to more than 1,400 named bodies of water, according to Steven Clenney, manager of sports development for Visit Lake, making this destination near Orlando ideal for hosting water sports events.

Lake Minneola in Clermont is home to the Clermont Boathouse and Clermont Waterfront Park, as well as 1,000-meter and 2,000-meter courses for paddlesports or rowing, and its oak-tree-covered shoreline provides spectators a welcoming viewing environment. The county also offers some of the state’s top freshwater fishing lakes and hosts high-profile tournaments.

Out of the water, The National Training Center in Clermont includes a 37,000-square-foot fitness facility, five athletic fields, a 400-meter outdoor track and field complex and a newly renovated one-million-gallon pool that is the second-largest competition pool in Florida.

“Lake County is ‘real close’ to the premier tourist destination in the world: Orlando,” Clenney adds. “When the competition is over, visitors can take a 30-minute drive to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando or any of the other famous attractions.”

Jefferson Parish, Louisiana:
Countdown to Super Bowl LVIII

Another destination close to a premier tourist center is Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, which is part of the New Orleans-Metairie metropolitan area. The 75,000-square-foot Pontchartrain Convention & Civic Center boasts a flexible floor plan capable of accommodating everything from boxing and wrestling to basketball, volleyball and cheerleading. With padded seating for up to 3,700 spectators, concessions, dressing rooms and showers, the venue offers comfort and flexibility.

Other facilities include the multi-purpose Alario Center, the NOLA Motorsports Park and Bayou Segnette State Park. Additionally, Jefferson Parish sports tourism officials are partnering with the City of New Orleans to host the 2019 Sunbelt Classic Conference Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament, the 2019 Worldwide Spirit Association Grand Nationals and Super Bowl LVIII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2024.

“We also are actively working to pursue regional and national tournaments in several areas,” says Terrie Birkel, vice president of the Jefferson Convention & Visitors Bureau, citing disc golf, dodgeball, kickball, table tennis, beach volleyball, canoeing and kayaking. “Our doors are open and our waters untamed.”

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, Alabama:
Hit the Beach

Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offers the opportunity to combine sporting events with a beach vacation. Given its prime real estate, the area is a natural fit for water sports and beach sports, including beach volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, dodgeball and Ultimate disc. In fact, Gulf Shores is the longtime host of NCAA Beach Volleyball.

Further inland, the NAIA Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track & Field National Championship takes place each May at the Gulf Shores Sportsplex, which has undergone renovations over the years to now include a steeplechase, a hammer cage and a resurfaced track to meet collegiate standards.

Orange Beach also has made improvements in an effort to more effectively compete in the collegiate market by upgrading its championship soccer field lighting. ”We are always open to diversifying the slate of sports events along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, particularly in growing the shoulder seasons outside of summer,” says Michelle Russ, director of sales for the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission.

Palm Beach County, Florida:
Play Ball

In 2017, Palm Beach County hosted 162 events representing more than 40 sports — an accomplishment that can be attributed to the county’s diverse infrastructure, according to George Linley, executive director of the Palm Beach Sports Commission.

As of 2017, the county is the only one in Florida to house two Major League Baseball spring training facilities that serve a total of four teams. FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches opened last year as the home of the World Series Champion Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals, while 20-year-old Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium houses the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins. After the MLB regular season begins, those facilities welcome major youth tournaments, including Prospect Select Baseball’s Palm Beach Classic and USA Baseball’s East National Team Championships.

Additionally, the International Polo Club (honored in 2017 as “Florida’s Sports Venue of the Year” by the Florida Sports Foundation) not only hosts world-class equestrian events but also field hockey, soccer and lacrosse tournaments. “It’s an incredibly dynamic and versatile venue,” Linley says.

Greensboro, North Carolina:
“Tournament Town”

Speaking of versatile facilities, “Tournament Town” boasts the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, a massive facility with a special events center, aquatic center and fieldhouse. The complex has helped Greensboro land such major events as the 2019 YMCA Short Course Swimming National Championships and the 2019 AAU Junior Olympic Games.

Additionally, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department recently announced a 20-year comprehensive master plan and maintenance management plan for the parks system, which could lead to an even greater depth of sports facilities, according to Brian Ambuehl, sports sales manager for the Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau.

On top of all that, Aggie Stadium at North Carolina A&T State University will be renamed BB&T Stadium, and it’s Irwin Belk Track will undergo resurfacing. “We’ve had a pretty good record of success here in Greensboro, and this renovation will help us continue,” Ambuehl says.

Columbia, South Carolina:
Community Engagement

Columbia recently won a 2018 Sports Destination Management Reader’s Choice Award for “Favorite Destination for Community Engagement.”

“This is a sports community. People here have an affinity for sports, they want to be involved and they want events to be successful,” says Scott Powers, executive director of Experience Columbia SC Sports.

Among the latest additions to this vibrant sports community is Spirit Communications Park, home to the South Atlantic League’s Columbia Fireflies. In addition to baseball, the venue can accommodate football and soccer, with the field placed down the first base line and not in the outfield. The stadium hosted the South Atlantic League All-Star Game last year and is hoping to secure more events soon, Powers says.
Three rivers also flow through the city, helping Columbia earn status as a leading paddlesports destination. Collegiate rowing teams from the Midwest and Northeast often use the water for training in the winter and spring, and opportunities for whitewater competitions are available.

Lexington, Kentucky:
‘Horse Capital of the World’

Lexington “truly is the lifeblood of the horse racing industry,” says John Pohl, director of sports and equine sales for Visit Lex. “We’re surrounded by 500 horse farms.”

Lexington hosted the World Equestrian Games in 2010, and equestrian venues in the area include the Kentucky Horse Park, the Red Mile and Keeneland Race Course. But some of those facilities also can accommodate non-horse events such as marathons, cross country races, wrestling and cheerleading championships.

Several high-profile regional, national and international competitions in sports as diverse as basketball, gymnastics and rifle also take place at the University of Kentucky.

In Alabama:
Hoover Metropolitan Complex is Under New Management

In 2016, Sports Facilities Management took over operation of the city-owned Hoover Metropolitan Complex, anchored by 30-year-old Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. Previously the home of the Birmingham Barons (the team with which NBA legend Michael Jordan made his foray into baseball), the facility is one of several venues on the 250-acre complex.

The indoor Finley Center features 11 basketball courts, 17 volleyball courts and an indoor climbing center. This fall, five new baseball fields will open and five multi-purpose turf fields and 16 tennis courts are expected to be ready in 2019. There also are 170 RV parking spaces and the number of general parking spaces is expected to expand to 5,000 by January.

“We’re great stewards for the local community and also boosting economic impact,” Jones Jr. says. SDM

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