Hurricane Ian’s impact on scheduled sporting events in SWFL

Reporter: Zach Oliveri Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:
Lee County Sports Complex. (CREDIT: WINK News)

Every fall and winter, people flock to the Southwest Florida community to enjoy baseball, basketball, and other sports at all levels.

Events like spring training bring some normalcy, excitement, and of course, a lot of money to the area.

Not even spring training complexes were immune from the destructive force of Hurricane Ian.

Sports Complex in Lee County for spring training. (CREDIT: WINK News)

But, come Feb., the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins insist they will return to Lee County for spring training.

But other events like the USSAS softball fall states and the WWBA underclass world championship are not as lucky.

Jeff Mielke is the Lee County sports development executive, and he shared some insight on what might happen in the future.

“We just figured during the holidays with the people that are already coming into town and that big of an inland hotel demand, we just don’t know if we’ll be in a position to host it, and then the facilities will be focused on getting spring training going as well,” Mielke said.

That’s the focus for the county officials, to get the facilities ready for the first pitch of spring training.

John Naylor with the city of Palms is focused on keeping the event as scheduled.

“If we don’t have hotels, there’s no place for these teams to stay. And so, at this point, I’m trying to be optimistic and say the tournament is on everything else is clicking,” Naylor said.

One of the hotels Naylor booked on Fort Myers Beach was damaged by the hurricane. So he needs to confirm he has more than 1,000 hotel rooms for the week-long event in order to determine if they’re good to go.

“We need to make the decision shortly because these teams, you know, are waiting to book airline reservations and whatnot,” Naylor said.

The Fort Myers tip-off is returning, organizers announced on Friday and said the hospitality and tourism industries are essential to Southwest Florida and is needed now more than ever.

Naylor is hopeful of keeping his plan of bringing top basketball talent to Southwest Florida this year.

“Hopefully, we can put on a great show. It’s just a matter of getting all the stars to line up,” Naylor said.

During a meeting with the visitor and convention bureau, Mielke said the Gulfcoast Showcase is in great shape. That’s scheduled to start on Nov. 21, at Hertz Arena.

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