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By Mike May
While Wellington is firmly established as the premier destination for equestrian sports, it’s likely that Wellington will also soon become home to one of the finest training and instructional destinations for sports such as football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball and cheerleading.
The business entity pushing this new idea is Wellington Athletics LLC. It’s being spearheaded by three local athletes who went on to the big leagues: Jon Bostic, Devon Travis and Pat O’Donnell.
Bostic, a current NFL linebacker, has played in the NFL since 2013 for Chicago, New England, Detroit, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Washington. Travis is a former Major League Baseball player with the Detroit Tigers and the Toronto Blue Jays who is currently coaching for the Atlanta Braves organization. O’Donnell, meanwhile, is currently the punter for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.
All three of these sports stars are also graduates of Wellington’s Palm Beach Central High School, and all three are committed to giving area residents, especially young athletes, the chance to get first-class coaching right here in Wellington, rather than travel far away to receive this high-level instruction.
Bostic, Travis and O’Donnell readily admit that they were fortunate, as they benefited from great coaches and mentors in their amateur athletic careers. Now, they want to extend that same option to other up-and-coming athletes in central Palm Beach County. Wellington Athletics is looking to fill a void.
“The mission is to close that gap by providing young athletes with a holistic approach to achieving their goals — on the field, in the classroom and at home,” explained Bostic in his proposal letter to the Village of Wellington.
The mission of Wellington Athletics is to transform the currently underutilized Wellington Community Park, located at 3401 South Shore Blvd., into a 91,784-square-foot multi-purpose sports training and coaching complex, as well as a youth sports academy. In order to build this complex and turn their sports training and coaching dreams into a reality, they need some assistance from the village.
Wellington Community Park was originally built as the home of the Wellington Boys & Girls Club in the 1980s and has not had major updates since that time. The club left in 2013 for a brand-new facility across town. Since then, the only structure at the park, the old club building, has been used for storage, and the fields are in poor shape.
The Wellington Athletics plan would knock down the current building and replace it with a state-of-art sports training facility. Meanwhile, the fields would get a major upgrade.
How is this new idea going to be financed? Enter the Village of Wellington. After putting out a request for proposals seeking a new use for the old park last year, the village has been working with Wellington Athletics to figure out how to make the finances work for the benefit of both Wellington residents and Wellington Athletics through a public-private partnership.
Wellington Village Manager Jim Barnes said that this public-private partnership is getting closer to reality, but it’s going to take some time for it to be finalized.
“When you are dealing with funds from the Village of Wellington, it just takes time to get matters approved,” Barnes said.
For a project of this magnitude, there is one big number to consider: $36 million. That is what it will cost to build the headquarters for Wellington Athletics, upgrade the fields and get the program underway. And that doesn’t include the initial $1.5 million required to dismantle the former Boys & Girls Club building.
Once the current structure is demolished, it’s going to take $36 million to build the new home of Wellington Athletics. This site will contain indoor baseball/softball batting cages, at least six indoor basketball courts, an indoor cheerleading training area, a fitness center/gym, and rooms to house a chiropractor and physical therapist, among others.
Outside, there will be state-of-the art lighted baseball and softball fields with dugouts and a large multi-purpose field, which will be big enough for a full-sized football, soccer or lacrosse field.
To get access to the coaches, instructors and sports specialists at Wellington Athletics, families will have to pay an annual membership fee. The fitness center/gym facility will have a separate pricing structure, which might be ideal for parents who can drop off their child for coaching and then visit the fitness center for a workout.
“The gym will be a huge revenue source for us,” Bostic predicted.
There will be many benefits for Wellington residents. They include access to at least one basketball court for use by local teams from 6 to 10 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, access to the outdoor baseball and softball fields every Saturday from 1 p.m. to sundown, and access to the outdoor multi-purpose field at all times, unless Wellington Athletics needs to use it for clients. And since Palm Beach Central High School does not have lighted fields for its baseball and softball teams, those squads will be able to use the lighted fields for home games.
According to Barnes, the Village of Wellington will use money from a bond to finance $33 million, while Wellington Athletics will contribute the remaining $3 million to the overall project. The timetable for making payments to the Village of Wellington to reimburse the village for its $33 million investment has yet to be determined, but the proforma business model for Wellington Athletics indicates that this concept will not be profitable until its third year of its operation.
However the final numbers work out, the $33 million will be returned to the Village of Wellington based on the terms of a 30-year lease. The agreement will also give Wellington Athletics the option to accept two additional 25-year leases after the initial 30-year lease has expired.
According to Assistant Village Manager Ed De La Vega, the Village of Wellington will always remain in control of the land. “We never relinquish ownership of the property,” he said.
If, for some reason, the business model for Wellington Athletics fails, then the Village of Wellington would take control of the project.
Based on comments from Barnes, the Wellington Village Council has at least three more meetings to fully discuss and approve all actions needed to officially start the process.
“The best-case scenario is that the old Boys & Girls Club building gets removed starting in the first half of 2023 and that construction of the new building will be finished about 14 months later,” Barnes said.
To ensure that the Village of Wellington is making a financially sound decision, it has consulted with an outside source with experience in dealing with sports groups like Wellington Athletics. That expert is Don Schumacher of DSA Sports. Schumacher, who has extensive experience in working with sports facilities, will assist in a comprehensive market analysis.
“We are in the process of evaluating all of the hard work Wellington Athletics has put into this project,” Schumacher told the council in June. “I don’t have any information in front of me that says this is a bad idea.”
While Bostic, Travis and O’Donnell are the face of Wellington Athletics, they will not be running the day-to-day affairs of the operation. That is expected to be delegated to Clearwater-based Sports Facilities Companies, which has years of experience in running operations similar to Wellington Athletics. Sports Facilities Companies’ Jim Arnold is very optimistic that Wellington Athletics will be a success.
“I’m very bullish that a complex like this will be successful,” Arnold told the council in June. “This [facility] is a one-of-a-kind along the east coast of Florida.”
The economic impact of the presence of Wellington Athletics being operational could be as much as $6.4 million in its first year. It could be as high as $10 million by the fifth year.
“This is the new wave of sports,” Bostic said. “This is something which has taken countless hours to piece together. This is a lot more than athletics.”
Time will tell if Bostic, Travis and O’Donnell are right. But the Village of Wellington appears willing to make that initial first investment.