By: Ryan Randall 

Brevard County’s Space Coast Stadium had been hosting professional baseball games since 1994, but when the Washington Nationals announced the team was moving to West Palm Beach and the minor league Brevard County Manatees played its final season there in 2016, uncertainty loomed over the iconic regional stadium.

Rather than go after another professional team, county leaders threw a slider over the plate when many expected a fastball. When the Washington Nationals announced its plans to leave the Space Coast, county leaders reached a deal with the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) for the stadium. In April, the USSSA broke ground on expanding the land around the ballpark to create the USSSA Space Coast Stadium & Athletic Complex, a 15-field complex that will host amateur baseball and softball games. The organization will also host flag football and soccer events at the stadium and Viera Regional Park.

The organization’s USSSA Pride of the National Pro Fastpitch League will also play at Space Coast Stadium. USSSA will spend $22 million on the construction of the fields and renovation of the existing park, while the county will contribute $10 million.

The area’s economy is expected to benefit greatly from the addition of the USSSA and its year-round tournaments. The organization guarantees 75,000 hotel room nights in the first year, which will generate $375,000 a year off revenue from the Tourism Development Tax. The organization also guarantees 100,000 nights in the third year, generating $500,000 in
tax revenue.

A Shift In The Process

The hotel room number was mutually negotiated by the county and the organization, according to Eric Garvey, executive director at Brevard County Tourist Development Council (TDC).

The number was also based off data from USSSA’s previous residence in Kissimmee at Osceola County Stadium. When the TDC became involved in the search for new occupants, it wanted to ensure there would be a greater impact on tourism than what the previous tenants generated.

While MLB spring training took place at Space Coast Stadium for 22 years, the ballpark became a point of contention after the Marlins left and the Expos-turned-Nationals arrived. After unsuccessful talks with county leaders, the Nationals announced a move to Osceola County in 2013. Although the plan fell through, local leaders felt it was time to move on from spring training due to both the amount of money requested by the Nationals to upgrade the facilities and offers from other counties.

“By the time I got here in 2014, the community had settled on the fact that Major League Baseball wasn’t the right business to be in,” Garvey said. “At that time, the Nationals were being recruited to Palm Beach County with big money. They were dangling over $100 million for a new complex, and I think our community realized it wasn’t in the game and didn’t need to be in the game. It just wasn’t a good fit anymore.”

A Perfect Match

Word got to county leaders that USSSA was interested in moving, and a full-court press was put on the organization to bring it in. When asked what made the area a fit for USSSA, Garvey noted the access to I-95, which benefits hotel brands because they can space out their buildings close to the highway. He also noted destinations such as the Kennedy Space Center and the beaches as places for visiting families to have fun. In addition to the hotels and landmarks benefiting from USSSA, Brevard County’s retail and food industries will benefit as well.

“I get excited when I think about the local restaurants and shops that won’t have to necessarily depend totally on the local economy,” said Garvey. “They’ll get a lot of upside from the tourist economy to make them more successful.”

USSSA CEO Don DeDonatis said the speed in which the county moved, from visiting the site to finalizing a deal, was the fastest he’s ever seen. In addition to the construction around the stadium, the offices in the stadium were renovated to accommodate USSSA headquarters. Having to hold off events for months while spring training teams used their stadiums in Osceola County and at Disney Wide World of Sports, DeDonatis said having their own facility provides greater options.

“We’ll be able to bring in a host of other tournaments that we’ve never had the opportunity to bring in before, and we’ll be able to do it any time we want to.”- Don DeDonatis

“What it does now is give us the flexibility of bringing more events in of greater stature,” DeDonatis said. “So we’ll be able to bring in a host of other tournaments that we’ve never had the opportunity to bring in before and we’ll be able to do it any time we want to.”

Space Coast Stadium has evolved from a spring training destination to a place that will be a haven for amateur sports and provide a consistent revenue stream for the county. What once was almost an abandoned stadium is now a place county leaders are confident will be a family destination for years to come.