The stated goal of the new Alachua County Sports and Events Center at Celebration Pointe in Gainesville, Florida, is “to change the culture of sports one athlete at a time.” But it’s also changing the sports landscape in this north-central Florida city of more than 140,000 people.
“This has been a long time coming — more than 20 years,” says Joleen Cacciatore Miller, Executive Director of the Gainesville Sports Commission, referring to the June opening of the facility, which features the only 200-meter portable Mondo banked track in the state, plus 10 basketball courts convertible to 18 volleyball courts and 21 pickleball courts, as well as a 6,800-square-foot space dedicated to cheer and spirit competitions. “We and the local sports organizations we work with have been wanting a venue like this in our area, and this is a great public-private partnership.”
Indeed, the $38 million project is the result of a venture between Alachua County and Viking Companies LLC, developer of the Celebration Pointe entertainment district in which the new facility is located. The major funding source was Alachua County’s tourism development tax, with other money coming from Viking Companies and the State of Florida.
According to Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman, the facility will generate more than $77 million in annual economic activity, including more than 100,000 hotel room nights and millions of dollars in tax revenues for the community, while also creating more than 1,000 jobs with annual wages exceeding $25 million.
While the Alachua County Sports and Events Center at Celebration Pointe officially opened to lots of local fanfare on June 10, the facility hosted nine indoor track meets in early 2023 as part of a “soft opening,” according to Cacciatore Miller. That included 1,700 participants in the 10th Annual Jimmy Carnes Indoor Track & Field Invitational in January (hosted by the Gainesville Sports Commission), as well as several youth, high school and college meets.
The annual Jimmy Carnes Indoor Track & Field Invitational had been on hold for several years after a renovation project at the event’s previous home, the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on the University of Florida campus, eliminated an outdated indoor track.
“Once the county approved this building,” Cacciatore Miller says, referring to the new sports and events center, “we knew we could bring it back.”
The Alachua County Sports and Events Center at Celebration Pointe will be the new home for other existing events, too, some of which previously took place at the 40,000-square-foot Legacy Park Multipurpose Center (more on that facility later). Already on this year’s schedule are the sixth annual Gainesville Indoor Pickleball Showcase in August, the 22nd annual Gainesville Senior Games table tennis competition in October, and a variety of gymnastics and basketball events.
The facility also will allow the Gainesville Sports Commission to bring in several new events. The Florida Basketball Coaches Association was the first organization to host a tournament at the Alachua County Sports and Events Center at Celebration Pointe after its official grand opening in June, and more basketball tournaments are scheduled for later this year. Meanwhile, the University of Florida held a volleyball camp at the facility in July, and the 2024 National Junior College Athletic Association Indoor Track & Field Championship will be held there next March.
“You can have volleyball, basketball, pickleball and cheer going on all at the same time in different parts of the facility, which is really cool,” Cacciatore Miller says. “And we’re now able to better accommodate mat sports, since we have more uninterrupted open space.”
But That’s Not All
Alachua County boasts several other indoor and outdoor sports facilities, although none of them are as large and flexible as the Alachua County Sports and Events Center at Celebration Pointe.
They include the City of Alachua’s Legacy Park Multipurpose Center (four basketball/volleyball courts), and the Hal Brady Recreational Sports Complex (outdoor baseball/softball fields and multi-purpose fields, plus outdoor six pickleball courts).
Then there’s Champions Park in nearby Newberry, which hosts what Cacciatore Miller unofficially calls the “summer softball month” every June. The sprawling complex features 16 youth baseball and fast-pitch softball fields with synthetic turf infields, lights and permanent fencing at 220 feet.
“Pretty much every weekend in June, we have tournaments with more than 100 teams,” she says. “And that goes into July, as well. During the summer months, college coaches can start their recruitment, and they like our facility because all games are in one location.”
Additionally in the summer, Alachua County hosts events for the Florida Sports Foundation’s annual Sunshine State Games. This year’s June lineup included swimming, artistic swimming, archery, fencing and Ultimate.
“That was basically a festival throughout the county, which I always loved,” Cacciatore Miller says. “Gainesville, Newberry, Jonesville and the City of Alachua all had different events going on. With Champions Park and now the indoor center and other facilities, we’re able to host these kinds of summer festivals, and we’ll be bidding on events with the Florida Sports Foundation and other organizations to host more events at the new center.”
The Gainesville Sports Commission assists with hosting, creating or supporting more than 70 events per year, generating an annual economic impact of about $20 million, and Alachua County is home to approximately 5,500 hotel rooms (most of them in Gainesville).
And now, as Cacciatore Miller notes, with the Alachua County Sports and Events Center at Celebration Pointe up and running, the county is primed for even more impact in the years ahead.
Jimmy Carnes, the namesake of one of the new facility’s first-ever events and head coach of the 1976 and 1980 U.S. Olympic Track and Field teams, also founded the Sunshine State Games. Additionally, according to Cacciatore Miller, he long advocated for a facility like the one at Celebration Pointe prior to his death in 2011 at age 76.
“I think a lot of people said, ‘Wow, this project happened really fast,” she says. “But no, 30 years ago, Jimmy Carnes was saying we needed a facility like this, something the community can enjoy that also can host large-scale sporting events. This took the community and public-private partnerships working together to make it happen. And we’re thankful that everybody came together to build this amazing facility. I think we’re going to see a lot of great opportunities come out of it.” SDM