The search for a new site in 2008 to accommodate the growing interest in running events in the Big Bend area has resulted in a venue, the Apalachee Regional Park Cross Country Course, which has turned into an economic development success story.
The project is an example of how targeted government expenditures and cooperation from public and private entities can result in demonstrable economic benefits to the community.
The Miccosukee Greenway had historically been the host site for running events in our area, but a more expansive venue was needed. A collaborative effort by interested parties focused in on developing a premier cross-country facility at Leon County’s Apalachee Regional Park.
The course began to take shape because of those who are passionate about running. Leadership with the Gulf Winds Track Club organized work days on the course in 2009. The club also donated $10,000 to the Leon County Parks and Recreation Department in support of improvements at course.
The process began slowly with the basics like a start and finish and the creation of a simple loop through a mile of thick woods and brush. With rave reviews from local and out-of-town runners, interested parties saw an opportunity to continue to develop the course into a vital community resource.
In 2010, the Leon County Board of County Commissioners recognized the potential of the facility and provided direction to staff to move forward with improvements.
Next the project received $250,000 in the 2013 Leon County budget to widen the course from 5 to 10 meters and make general course improvements for footing and in course layout. Of the tax dollars allocated, $125,000 was provided from General Revenue and $125,000 was provided from the Tourist Development tax. Construction began in January 2013, immediately following the 2012 cross-country season.
The decision was made to do the majority of the work in-house. Consequently, the project required significant intra-agency coordination. County Divisions involved included: Division of Operations, Division of Engineering, Solid Waste Management, Parks & Recreation, Tourist Development/Sports Council staff, and Development Services and Environmental Management. In addition, community partnerships and input was critical, particularly from FSU Athletics, Gulf Winds Track Club, and Leon County Schools
With the renovations completed, it did not take long for the benefits to be realized.
In October 2013 the FSU Invitational was held at the venue and saw 3,500 visitors to the community (athletes included) with a direct visitor spending calculation of $812,000.
In November , the course hosted the largest race of the 2013 season, the Florida High School Athletic Association’s Cross-Country State Championship. That race saw 5,000 visitors to the community with a direct visitor spending calculation of $1,160,000.
The final race of the season, the Florida Athletic Coaches Association’s All Star Cross Country meet, drew 200 visitors and had a $34,800 economic impact.
The total direct spending impact for 2013 was $2,006,800 and the estimated direct spending impact for 2014 is $2,122,800.
Alex Ozuna, the Assistant Director of Athletics at the FHSAA, told Tallahassee Reports that Apalachee Regional Park offers “one of the better courses in the State.” Ozuna said, “it is one of the few courses that is cross country specific” and the transitions from forest to fields from valleys to hills “adds a level of difficulty not available in many courses located in Florida.”
The good news is that all three of the events held in 2013 are scheduled again for 2014, along with the NCAA South Regionals.