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Chain of Lakes Complex Overhaul Coming Soon

Published on Jan 28, 2021

The southern edge of Winter Haven is by no means a random cornfield in Iowa, but the eventual construction of a new baseball complex will make them come – in droves.

The second phase of the Chain of Lakes complex is now moving forward, with the Polk County Board of County Commissioners approving an interlocal agreement with the City of Winter Haven to provide $200,000 in tourist development tax receipts for engineering, design and permitting the initial stages of the development.

Polk County’s Tourism and Sports Marketing Division helps to recruit, partner and manage special events in Polk to enhance the county’s economic climate. And while things have been slow during this last year, largely because of the pandemic, they have hardly stopped.

The second phase of the Chain of Lakes complex will complement the already completed renovations and construction of the first phase, which included the field house and other amenities. Once completed, the addition of the new facility and improvements will allow Polk County to recruit and host large baseball events, which are anticipated to bring in more than $30 million in economic benefit for Polk annually.

Some of those events include the RussMatt Collegiate Baseball Invitational, the Wilson Premier Baseball Classic, Florida Scout Ball, World Amateur Baseball Association, United States Specialty Sports Association and many other baseball events.

When it was first built, the complex had the baseball field, the famed Orange Dome, the theater, conference rooms and Olympic pool. But over the years, the needs of the community changed. Major League Baseball, for which the ballfields were built, left. The Orange Dome became outdated, along with the rest of the complex.

In short, it needed updating.

“It doesn’t really lend itself to what the facility is used for now,” said Marc Zimmerman, Polk County Tourism Sales and Events manager.

“Anytime it rains, those fields hold water pretty quickly,” he said. Those don’t drain. The fields take one to two days to dry out.”

In a place like Florida, that isn’t conducive to holding year-round tournaments.

The back fields, not including the stadium, also do not have any lighting. That’s a huge disadvantage and eliminates the possibility of night games on multiple fields.

No concrete plans are in place and the design phase will commence soon. But Zimmerman said they have plenty of ideas for how the space could be used. Those ideas include multiple multiuse fields, four lighted ballfields with covered seating and a possible lake-front public park component that hasn’t been there before.

These changes will be a substantial departure from the way the property is used now. And the history tied to the property, specifically Polk’s baseball history, isn’t lost on Zimmerman.

“We want to pay homage to this facility through its design,” he said. “Polk has a long history of baseball, with both the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians having played here for spring training. We have talked about maybe having a historic walk to show what it was and who was here during those times. It’s a special place.”

Once the design and engineering phases are complete, the city and county will begin to look at construction estimates and a timeline for the completion of the project.