Who wouldn't want to step into the batter’s box with the cool Gulf breeze blowing in across the baseball diamond? Panama City Beach is a prime destination, given its idyllic setting, weather and good old Southern hospitality. But it’s also a destination for athletes from around the country. Sports are a big deal in Panama City Beach, whether it’s fast-pitch softball, World Series baseball, soccer or lacrosse. Thousands of athletes come to the city annually for tournaments and training camps. Sporting events and Frank Brown Park are essential to the Panama City Beach tourism industry, as they account for more than 100,000 visitor room nights a year and $75 million in direct visitor spending, annually. In fact, sports are so pivotal that Frank Brown Park, a 200-acre recreation facility, recently underwent a $4 million renovation project, which included new backstops, rust-proof fencing, new dugouts, shaded spectator areas, an improved layout (to help with crowd flow), a new concession building and new restrooms. This was the first major renovation project at Frank Brown Park since it was opened in 1979. Funding was provided by the Bay County Tourist Development Council.
The park has nine baseball/softball fields, one T-ball field, one Miracle League field, three soccer fields, four multi-purpose football fields, four tennis courts, two outdoor basketball courts, two shuffleboard courts, as well as a playground, a gymnasium, picnic pavilions, trails, a dog park, an aquatic center and a 22-acre festival site. On a daily basis, Frank Brown Park is bustling with activity, whether it’s youngsters and their parents or area seniors and snowbirds. In addition to the renovations at Frank Brown Park, ground has been broken on a new sports park, which will occupy 210 acres of land on the east end of Panama City Beach. Partners in the project are the St. Joe Company, which donated the land for the project; the Bay County School District, which will construct a K-8 school on the property; and the Bay County Tourist Development Council, which purchased 10 acres of land for an access road to the site.
In the first phase of the approximately $30 million project, a total of nine rectangular, multi-purpose fields will be constructed using synthetic turf. These fields can accommodate sports such as lacrosse, soccer and flag football, and will have multipurpose capabilities, which will allow them to also accommodate five full-size baseball and softball diamonds. As part of the sports park design, guests will see a concession area and tournament headquarters facility. The sports park will also include a variety of nature trails and fitness trails. The northern area of the park will eventually feature an additional four rectangular grass fields.
Teams are expected to begin play at the new sports park, which has yet to be named, by the fall of 2018. From baseball and softball to soccer and lacrosse, the future of sports and sports visitation is bright in Panama City Beach, and the new sports park will only brighten the sports spotlight already shining on the city. “Developing the new sports park on the east end of Panama City Beach not only is bringing a state-of-the-art facility to the region, but also opens up huge possibilities for large-scale soccer and lacrosse tournaments, and will allow our already successful baseball and softball tournaments more room to play ball,” says Dan Rowe, president and CEO of Visit Panama City Beach. “Those teams, and those sports, will boost visitation in the spring, fall and winter, and especially keep the east end of the beach involved in — and benefiting from-sports visitation.”