Alachua County signaled its interest in hosting the 2025 World Masters Athletics and the funding necessary for infrastructure improvements.
The World Masters Athletics would draw in 4,000 athletes and around 2,500 other visitors for three weeks in the spring of 2025, and County Manager Michele Lieberman said the opportunity allows Alachua County to gain early international renown for its sports and event center at Celebration Pointe.
Lieberman said the county has an opportunity since the prior host city, Boston, backed out of the deal. She said the United States has never hosted the event since it started in 2004.
“The national organization is committed to hosting this in the United States, and we are the only ones that are in this mix,” Lieberman said. “Essentially, it is ours to lose at this point.”
The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) said the event would be a boon for the area, but Chair Anna Prizzia pulled out a letter of support from the consent agenda for discussion, asking exactly what the county was committing to in the letter.
The letter said the county wants to host the event and is showing its desire to host with a $1 million commitment. Prizzia asked if that’s a hard commitment of funds and how the money would be used if the bid is successful.
Staff said the event would need an outdoor cross-country track as one example of the improvements needed, and Lieberman said the county is already looking at locations and partnerships for the infrastructure.
Still, an exact list of improvements, and how the county would use the infrastructure after the World Masters Athletics, remains unknown. Prizzia said she would like to see a business plan as the county moves forward in the bidding.
Earlier this year, the BOCC approved the use of $20,000 to start the application process from a dedicated fund for such opportunities, and the $1 million for infrastructure improvements would come from tourism tax revenues—which hit a record in 2023.
Commissioner Ken Cornell said the $1 million represents Alachua County’s negotiation with the governing body of the World Masters Athletics and that the county can back out down the line.
However, staff said the county lacks time to prepare a full business plan before needing the BOCC letter of support. The application deadline comes at the end of May, and Lieberman said representatives could then visit in the fall.
The commission decided to drop a dollar amount and have the letter say the BOCC is committed to building the infrastructure needed through its tourism development tax reserves, assuring the World Masters Athletics that it had sufficient funds.
“Here's an opportunity that we cannot lose,” Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said. “Because if we lose this, then we won't be attractive to anyone else. At some point, we have to gamble a little bit to get the success that we want for that facility, and I think that this is a good opportunity.”
Commission Mary Alford recommended putting the reserves amount, around $4 million, in the letter since the information is already public knowledge.
Lieberman said the county is working with Viking Inc, the business behind Celebration Pointe, and the Gainesville Sports Commission on the application. She said Viking Inc. even hired an expert in international event bidding.
Lieberman said the county is looking at locations for the cross-country track that would dovetail with parks master plan or a school district location that high school athletes could then use.
She said the county lodged an appropriations request for state funding, but the request was too late for consideration. She said the county plans to try again next year and noted the past success of Viking Inc. in garnering state funds, like some used to build the Alachua County Sports and Event Center.
Commissioners also considered pulling the city of Gainesville’s 8th Avenue and Waldo Road project into the discussion as a support location.
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