LAKEWOOD RANCH -- At any given day of the week, there's always something happening at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, just off State Road 70 East. From youth soccer, lacrosse, rugby and football, to tournaments, special events, camps and coaches clinics that attract renowned athletes, the campus is a bustling 140 acres of activity that boasts 22 fields.
Now, all the energy and popularity coming from the complex, which opened almost three years ago, is spilling over into the local economy, helping small businesses located just down the road attract customers from all over who like to spend money.
"It's an unbelievable amount of business, so much so, we need more seating," said Maurice Dentici, owner of Rico's Pizzeria & Pasta House on SR 70 East in the strip mall at the corner of Lorraine Road.
The strip mall and the sports campus are owned by
Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch.
Dentici's restaurant in Lakewood Ranch has only been open for about a year, but when the youths who train at the sports complex get hungry, they head over to Rico's in large groups to buy pizza and other Italian delicacies.
"We welcome them with open arms, and when the sports complex needs something, we don't hesitate to supply pizza and gift certificates for their fundraising events," said Dentici, a proud descendent of Naples, Italy. "Our reputation and name has certainly added to this, and we are very happy to be there."
The same sentiment holds true for Darrin Simone, who two years ago opened The Ranch Grill Restaurant & Sports Bar and Memory Lane Ice Cream and Sweet Shop, both in the same strip area near the sports campus. The sweet shop originally was housed in the restaurant's banquet room but moved next door to its own, larger location, which is a definite favorite among the children who practice and play at the sports complex and live in the area.
"When something big is going on, like the Soccer Showcase a few months ago, the tournaments they host, and college recruiters visiting from all over the country, we definitely see a bump in business, not to mention teams coming here all the time," Simone said during a busy mid-week afternoon. "But honestly, we're busy all the time since this is a neighborhood sports bar. "
Although the Ranch Grill is a sponsor for one of the many highly touted Celebration grass and well-irrigated playing fields at the Premier Sports Campus, the restaurant doesn't depend on it for its livelihood.
"This is just an excellent location and we have a captive audience," Simone said. "We do well with the locals because they consider it their hangout."
Area businesses and retailers also benefit from the large tournaments and special events the campus hosts, like the recent Nike International Friendlies Soccer tournament held there last December, and two upcoming special events in March: Just Play Sports Fest (March 8-9) and the inaugural Winterfest at Lakewood Ranch (March 29).
It also serves as a training camp for teams including the U.S. Under-20 Women's National Soccer Team and the Chinese Women's National Team that practiced on campus and recently played a match against each other.
There's the added bonus of doing business in a large community like Lakewood Ranch.
"On the local side, just being in Lakewood Ranch is a big part of their economic success since up to a thousand kids who live in the area on weekdays and weekends practice and play at our sports campus," noted Antonio Saviano, director of sports for Premier Sports Campus. "The first thing they want to do after a game is get ice cream or a sandwich."
For Summerfield resident and entrepreneur Jackie Colacci, owner of The Art of Soccer on SR 70 East near Interstate 75, this definitely is a winning combination. Colacci just opened her store in July and says all the tournaments and events have done wonders for her business.
"I have to get more merchandise since the U.S. and Chinese women's soccer teams are here. I try to coordinate my merchandise with the teams that are playing, and Mr. Saviano usually gives me the heads up," said Colacci, who juggles being a retailer, wife and mother of three.
"This is an amazing place," commented Odail Rodriguez, a Bradenton resident who paid a visit to the sports campus this week, seeking to register his 8-year-old son with the Chargers Soccer Club, a tenant of the campus. "I'm Brazilian and we love soccer. We talk about it 90 percent of the day, and you can't find this anywhere, even in Brazil."
Information about activities and events at Premier Sports Campus of Lakewood Ranch can be found at www.premiersportscampus.com.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.