Panama City Beach Sports Complex celebrates grand opening

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - It's official: the Panama City Beach Sports Complex is open for fun and games.

Local teams run through the ribbon to officially open the complex.

For real.

Saturday morning, a grand unveiling hosted by NewsCannel 7's own Paris Janos and attended by local teams from every level and outdoor sport celebrated the finished $37 million project.

The venue was pressed into service part-time for baseball and softball tournaments beginning in July mainly because of damage to nearby facilities, but the complex was far from finished. In some instances, workers were pouring concrete at 4 A.M. before visitors arrived for games at 9.

Now it's done, from the lots to the 13 multi purpose fields (nine synthetic, four natural).

It's a vision a long time coming.

"When I moved here, it was just dirt," general manager J.D. Wood said. "To see the evolution on a day to day basis, all the hard work, and to see the grand opening happen today is an event that can't be duplicated or replicated. Yes, maybe it was slightly pushed back from the original plan, but this is still this amazing facility that we have. It happened in 14 months, if you include the two months being down."

Gulf Coast baseball and softball teams, 30A lacrosse, and FSU Panama City Quidditch were among the teams breaking in the fields.

During all future use, they'll be honoring a beloved man from the city's past: Chip Seal.

Seal was a Tourist Development Council employee who passed away after a battle with cancer in January 2017. A Mosley, Gulf Coast and Florida State alum, he was also an avid sports enthusiast involved as a player or youth coach nearly his whole life.

In the park's early planning stages, an idea was pitched by Visit Panama City Beach President Dan Rowe: when you pull up to the fields, you'll drive up to 50 Chip Seal Parkway.

"Unanimous, on the spot, done. Make it happen," Bay County Commissioner Philip "Griff" Griffitts recalled. "Truly a worthwhile legacy to live for Chip and his family. Every time I drive down Back Beach Road and I see the sign, it just brings a smile to my face because I know he's watching down on us and he's looking at this park today and saying 'good job guys. Y'all pulled it off.' Now he can watch all the sports any timer he wants."

While current plans for the complex involve organized tournaments, recreation free-use options for the general public are being explored.