To understand what goes into the conception and planning of mega sports complexes, consider the story of Neal Freeman.
During his 30-year-plus career with Watkins Retail Group, Freeman developed 52 Publix-anchored neighborhood shopping centers. Meanwhile, as the father of three athletes and a prolific baseball and softball coach, he traveled to dozens of tournaments and championships. His experiences were not always the best, to put it mildly.
“It was hard to find good facilities and also schedule the hotels, restaurants and entertainment for between the games,” says Freeman. “I was driving all over the country watching the traveling sports industry explode, but it was difficult as a coach to pull it all together. I started thinking: Wouldn’t it be great if you could have all the stuff you needed in one location?”
Armed with decades of experience in real estate and sports, Freeman set out to create such a place. He partnered with Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Ga., a successful entrepreneur who has held various leadership and executive roles in industries like subcontracting, design, construction and banking. Ehrhart is also one of Georgia’s longest-serving elected officials. Like Freeman, sports have always played an important part in Ehrhart’s life, as he’s served as both a coach and an athletic director for various summer leagues and tournaments.
Freeman and Ehrhart shared a similar vision of creating a multifaceted, state-of-the-art sports and entertainment destination. After years of planning and preparation, they unveiled the first phase of LakePoint Sporting Community in May 2014.
The 1,400-acre complex is about 35 miles north of downtown Atlanta and has venues for 32 sports. One of the center’s most noteworthy features is Terminus Wake Park, the largest wakeboarding park in the country, which uses a cable system enabling visitors to wakeboard and water ski—without a boat—through a series of obstacles and trails. With nearly 5 million square feet of available space for mixed-use commercial development, the complex will eventually have seven themed sections, including a whitewater park, a golf course, an outdoor adventure center with mountain bike trails, zip lines and a ropes course, along with multiple hotels.
“We’re creating the ultimate stay-and-play sports vacation destination,” Freeman says.
They are not alone. The rapid rise of massive stay-and-play sports complexes has opened new doors for planners. But it has also raised a significant question within the industry: Can there be too much of a good thing?