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Huge JAXUSL soccer complex proposed for St. Johns County

An illustration shows a proposed 15-field community sportsplex in northern St. Johns County.
An illustration shows a proposed 15-field community sportsplex in northern St. Johns County.

A proposal to pursue a potential 15-field sportsplex in northern St. Johns County got the green light this week from the County Commission.

JAXUSL proposed a public-private partnership as it seeks to bring a professional United Soccer League franchise to Northeast Florida. The organization said the $30 million sportsplex could bring an estimated $150 million in revenue to the county over the next decade.

Commission members voted unanimously Tuesday to pursue it, something that would benefit professional and amateur sports all over the area, JAXUSL President and CEO Steve Livingstone told WJCT News.

"It would not only act as a training site for us. Three of the 15 fields we are proposing would be for our training base for the men's and women's pro teams," he said. "An additional 12 fields would be specifically for community use and for use of youth soccer clubs in the area. There's also an opportunity for us to develop the site as one for regional and national tournament play."

The sportsplex would comprise nine natural grass soccer fields, five multipurpose synthetic turf fields for soccer, baseball or lacrosse, and a professional turf soccer field. An eight-lane athletic track and a mini-stadium suitable for Special Olympics and regional events also is proposed, with bleacher seating for up to 3,000.

JAXUSL was formed when Livingstone and Tony Allegretti partnered with Ricky Caplin and Tim Tebow to bring competitive soccer to the Jacksonville area by 2025. That includes working with local authorities to develop a stadium with capacity for 15,000 people, plus a training facility to host the men’s and women’s pro clubs in Northeast Florida, as well as this regional sports complex.

The project was nicknamed Project Shamrock because they "wanted it to be lucky," Livingstone said. They ultimately found a 73-acre site on Florida 16A in St. Johns County.

The site is close to where the Florida Department of Transportation plans to build the last stage of the First Coast Expressway, a toll road that ultimately will connect Interstate 10 in West Jacksonville with Clay County and then St. Johns County via a new Shands Bridge.

St. Johns County had already planned an eight-field sports complex on 40 acres it owned there, Livingstone said. But with the county's help, JAXUSL proposes working with FDOT to secure an adjacent site it owns, Livingstone said.

The proposal involves a land swap, Livingstone said. JAXUSL owns 39 acres about 400 yards down the street from the 33-acre FDOT site. Swapping the land with FDOT would allow the group to create a contiguous development.

"The county, I think, is supportive of this and certainly supportive of making an inquiry to FDOT to see if this is something we can do," Livingstone said.

These are two of the proposed 15 fields in the community sportsplex and professional training site in northern St. Johns County.
These are two of the proposed 15 fields in the community sportsplex and professional training site in northern St. Johns County.

The professional soccer club would plan to base its training headquarters at the sportsplex, using two grass fields and the turf site for professional club training.

"The development of the full 73 acres into a sports fields would be the highest and best use of the facility, because if they don't, it will just be an eight-field site that will be limited to community use," Livingstone said. "But our proposal involves pretty much supersizing the site, if you like, to allow us to then investigate a greater economic impact for St. Johns County."

As part of the proposal, JAXUSL would request to run the sportsplex for the county, Livingstone said. The facility also could become a home for JAXUSL professional women’s and men’s USL Super League and USL Championship teams, as well as St. Johns County Parks & Recreation Department's regional and national youth sports tournaments and other professional sports tourism opportunities.

The new sportsplex, which could open by early 2025, could create almost 130 jobs. The estimate that the sportsplex would generate an estimated $15 million to $20 million in economic impact for St. Johns County comes from an analysis done by Sports Facilities Cos. of Clearwater, which develops or operates 43 sports, recreation, entertainment and fitness centers nationwide, Livingstone said.

"The commissioners liked what we presented and voted to move ahead with the proposal," he said. "That doesn't necessarily mean that they are going to accept the proposal and fund it. But we are basically taking the next steps to develop the proposal."

The fields and park facilities would include walking trails, playground and picnic areas, a pavilion, concessions and public parking.

Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years as a radio, television and print reporter in the Jacksonville area, as well as years of broadcast work in the Northeast. You can reach Dan at, (904) 607-2770 or on Twitter at @scanlan_dan.