SEBRING — Big events have brought in more visitors and more tax revenue to Highlands County.

Now the county needs to make sure its venues can handle the competitors and spectators.

Some facilities have started to show their limits. This year, the Pro Watercross racing and aerial watercraft event competed on Lake Verona in Avon Park, but while Donaldson Park had plenty of beachfront, parking was limited and so was the acreage on the lake.

Casey Hartt, lead marketing consultant for the Highlands County Tourist Development Council/Visit Sebring, said half of the event — the larger craft — competed in Kissimmee on another lake there.

Last year, the inaugural Pro Watercross competition took place at Veterans Beach on Lake Jackson, which had room for spectators, cars and team semi-trailers. With the event in a three-year contract and possibly willing to sign for another two or three more years, according to Alan Verlander of Airstream Ventures LLC, people have asked about Lake Placid.

Lake June has two public parks on the northeast cove: HL Bishop Park on the north side and Lake June Park on the south side, but can one or both handle Pro Watercross?

Ray Royce, town councilman, said that’s “not going to happen,” based on meetings he’s had with Hartt and other tourism officials. While the lake would work well for the event, and other sports-related events could come to Lake Placid, the parks lack enough room.

“It’s mainly the amount of beach area and parking. They need a lot of beach area to launch from [and] have spectators,” Royce said. “They need places to bring in semis to bring the teams in.”

Another concern is that heavy traffic on Lake June Road, and with HL Bishop Park sitting on a curve, that would be a safety issue, Royce said.

Hartt said HL Bishop Park is a challenge because it’s landlocked by the road and residential development and has no nearby land for additional parking needed for the semi-trailers. She also echoed concerns about the sharp curve at an event sure to have pedestrian traffic, something Pro Watercross organizers have said.

As for Lake June Park, she said it needs a bigger beach.

“And I do not think the current property line is wide enough,” Hartt said. “It would be up to the town [Lake Placid] if they wanted to expand that.”

Town Administrator Phil Williams said Wednesday that Lake June Park has 229 feet of shoreline.

To date, he said, he’s not had any talks yet about hosting the event there or what improvements the parks need, if any.

The town operates Lake June Park, but Highlands County Government operates HL Bishop Park. Lake June Park is set to have parking areas paved, Williams said, as part of a project approved for county funding by the county’s Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee.

It has not been bid out yet, he said.

Hartt said these events also have a $25,000-$30,000 television segment fee to promote the destination and host town. TDC pays most of it. Avon Park paid $10,000 for Pro Watercross. For the upcoming Motosurf event in August, Sebring will also pay $10,000.

“In order to land some of these water events, Lake Placid would need to provide a portion of the TV advertising costs, as well,” Hartt said.

Hartt also said the Pro Watercross organizers told the TDC they prefer to hold the events in or near Sebring and the majority of hotels and restaurants.

Recommended for you