MANATEE -- IMG Academy, a division of IMG Worldwide, is set to open its world to Manatee County.
The sports academy, which attracts professional athletes from around the world, has long sequestered itself with tight security and limited public access. But IMG Academy unveiled a host of projects Wednesday, including a new multi-sport complex under construction, designed to extend the sports academy's reach to welcome Manatee County residents and folks from across the state.
The $36 million, 100-plus-acre expansion will help lure events and championships from around the country, offer a venue for more public athletic events and provide a place for spectators to comfortably enjoy the competition.
The multi-sport stadium will open in August with stadium seating for 5,000 people and the ability to expand to 10,000 seats. The stadium will feature TV-ready lights and a broadcast-style press box designed to draw major sports networks to IMG to broadcast events around the globe, as well as provide local television stations access to more events.
"It's such a special day for us as we continue to grow this campus," said Greg Phillips, IMG vice president and athletics director. "We've had a lot of success fortunately in the growth of our full-time programs, our camps. Now with the pro teams we're bringing in, with everything we're doing, this facility gives us a chance to go further with what we're doing."
Stadium components include:
Bermuda grass surface football/soccer/lacrosse field;
eight-lane, 400-meter track;
collegiate-style video board; and
new lighted baseball field.
The second phase will open in December featuring a 40,000-square-foot fieldhouse with locker rooms, meeting spaces and offices. The third phase in 2014 will include an expanded research and development lab for sports performance companies such as Gatorade, Under Armor, Airweave, Prince tennis and motion-capture software company Motus Global.
Even before the new features were added and events scheduled, a preliminary report commissioned by IMG shows the academy exerted a $517 million economic impact in the region last year, according to Chip McCarthy, director of planning and development and IMG chief financial officer. That figure takes into account more than 720 jobs at IMG, which balloons to 900 in the summer, and revenue generated by flights, hotel stays, car rentals, real estate sales, money spent at area businesses, contractors who provide services and even tickets sold to events,
New events planned so far are expected to add another $2 million in annual impact.
When construction in the 15-year expansion is factored in, the annual impact adds up to more than $715 million, McCarthy said.
The final economic impact report prepared by renowned Florida economist Hank Fishkind is expected to be completed and released in coming months.
IMG's five-phase expansion includes $14 million for sports facilities, $15 million for a new residence hall -- designed to increase the student head count to 1,300 from 818 -- and $7 million to buy land for expansion, McCarthy said.
The expansion includes a baseball quadraplex designed to be "as good, if not better than any available spring training facility," he said.
IMG didn't schedule Wednesday's groundbreaking just to boast about the work it plans to do behind locked gates.
IMG Performance, a division of IMG Academy parent company, IMG Worldwide, manages more than 100 events worldwide, said Sam Zussman, senior vice president of IMG Worldwide and managing director of IMG Performance. It plans to open more events to the public and has already parterned with the community to help sell Manatee County as a sports mecca.
"IMG gets it," Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie said Wednesday. "They understand about community involvement, and IMG has been a great partner with Manatee County, with the community, and getting involved with different organizations. They're just another great business partner in Manatee."
IMG already plays host to a wide range of events and training, including Major League Soccer camps and Canadian Football League camps, but the new sports complex offers fans a dedicated place to park, sit and enjoy a game.
"We don't want this to be a six-day-a-year facility; we want this to be a 365-day-a-year facility," Phillips said. "That may mean other sporting events. It may mean bringing pro leagues in whether that be MLS, or whatever pro league, to town to play. We think the community would love that from a spectator standpoint. We also look forward to opening the facility up in the right configuration for other high schools."
Phillips said IMG will continue to play host to high school and collegiate events with the new complex making the venue even more attractive to the schools.
To lure some prestigious events from outside Florida, IMG is requesting $3 million in state funding to build facilities to accommodate those events, McCarthy said. The request is being considered in a Florida House budget bill.
"What we're trying to do is bring events to the area," McCarthy said. "We've been successful so far, but we've been looking for larger events, and we're going to need that help."
McCarthy said IMG has been aggressive in its 15-year plan, which was developed in 2009. "We're ahead of schedule on that, and now we're looking at even extending beyond the 15-year plan," he said. "We're looking for other opportunities."
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck