The developer of Lakewood Ranch has offered to sell its Premier Sports Campus — plus land for a new swimming pool — to Manatee County government.
In a letter to County Administrator Ed Hunzeker dated June 12, SMR President and CEO Rex Jensen details the offer, which would include a transfer of “126.9 acres of parking, fields, lighting and miscellaneous buildings,” as well as the transfer of “36 acres on the north side of the Sports Campus” to be used as an aquatics center, which should be built within the next five years.
“Seller desires that facility continues to be operated as a blend of a regional park and a tourism generator for the greater area,” Jensen said in the letter. “The appropriate mix of those two functions will likely change as the surrounding area develops, but the facility should continue to play some significant role in tourism development after the transfer.”
The park, located off State Road 70 in Lakewood Ranch, opened in 2011, and hosts numerous soccer tournaments and other events.
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Hunzeker delivered the letter, which states the desired closing as Dec. 15, to commissioners during a budget work session Wednesday afternoon. The purchase price would be $5.2 million, which reflects SMR’s construction cost of the campus, according to the letter.
“The offer is intriguing,” Hunzeker said. “That land is worth in the $20 million range. We have some homework to do that we will bring back to you. We just don’t know. We just received this. There is a bit of work to do. There’s staffing. There’s maintenance. There’s how will we fund it.”
Adjacent to the land in question is the proposed site of a future high school for Manatee County, according to a map attached to the letter. SMR wants to trade land next to Premier Sports Campus for property the Manatee County School District owns off State Road 64 and Dam Road.
Commissioners praised the opportunity Wednesday.
“It took a lot for SMR to get to the point to make the offer to the county,” Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said. “It is most likely about a $20 million gift to this county. This is also a huge thing for East Manatee.”
As the commissioner representing Lakewood Ranch and East Manatee, Baugh said it’s important to the people.
“You have a huge, huge area there that could enjoy this park and the aquatic center once it’s built,” she said.
Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac added: “This is so exciting.”
Laura Cole, SMR’s vice president of marketing, said the company delivered the offer to the county this week.
“For us, we're kind of viewing it as opportunity to take the sports campus to the next level,” Cole said. “We've incubated and invested into its success. It's been an big attraction in terms of tourism and sports activity. In order for the complex to experience its full potential, we feel like it needs to be an entity like parks and recreation that has has the resources to take it to the next level."
Hunzeker told commissioners he would deliver a report to them on the offer in either July or August. The county is also looking to build a pool at Lincoln Park in Palmetto.
“Upon execution of a purchase agreement, county will have right to discuss employment of existing Premier Sports Campus staff,” Jensen said in the letter. “Upon execution of a purchase agreement, seller would be interested in discussing sponsorship opportunities and/or rental of space for an information center on site.”
Herald staff writer Mark Young contributed to this story.