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Florida City Opens Paintball Park
By Bill Mills - December, 2003
Nestled in Florida’s east coast, a bit south of the Kennedy Space Center lies the city of Palm Bay, Florida. Palm Bay’s suburban feel belies its size. With a population of 86,000 people, many sections of the city remain lightly developed with neighborhoods consisting of only two or three houses, and the remaining lots filled with pine and palmetto forests.
As with any city of size, Palm Bay has its share of paintball players. The city is home to players from numerous teams including the Rogue Warriors, the Black Sheep, Air Assault, General Chester, and WARPIG.com. Palm Bay is also the hometown of Joe West, the owner of barrel manufacturer J&J Performance. Despite its playing base, Palm Bay has been lacking in paintball fields.
To the North, Space Coast paintball is about an hour’s drive. To the West, a variety of paintball fields are a similar distance in the Orlando area. To the South about 50 minutes drive is Bulseye Paintball in Vero Beach. While each of these locations provides a great field, they are a fair distance away. The rural nature of Palm Bay led to a significant amount of renegade play, which became a concern to the city.
According to former city councilman Tres Holton, the city was receiving complaints about renegade paintball play in 2002. Some cities have responded to problems with renegade play or assaults and vandalism using paintball gear by laying down more restrictive laws that end up restricting responsible players. Palm Bay instead took a more progressive approach to develop safe paintball play in the city.
In June of 2003, Julio Bustamante of the Palm Bay Parks and Recreation department was faced with the task of supporting a new sport or activity for the city. Years earlier, Bustamante had worked as a cook in a Chili’s restaurant in Miami, Florida. Several of his co-workers were paintball players who regularly complained about how hard it was to find a place to play. Bustamante quickly found that there wasn’t a legally authorized place to play in Palm Bay (a city ordinance prohibits firing of air guns) and started formulating a plan for a city paintball park. A city paintball park would offer a safer alternative to renegade play and give a useful facility to the city’s residents.
The idea was enthusiastically received by the city council, which approved a $10,000 seed budget with a unanimous vote. After considering two sites, the council took Hurricane Park, an undeveloped city park parcel in an undeveloped neighborhood, and committed it to become Hurricane Paintball Park, the city’s paintball facility.
In many areas $10,000 might be considered a great starting budget. For the City of Palm Bay however, trying to build a paintball park nice enough to attract paintball players used to playing renegade games for free, the park needed to offer something that backyard and vacant lot games could not. Building a field with fully netted play areas, multi level fire bases for scenario style play, and speedball fields for tournament style play, as well as having a fleet of rental equipment is quite a stretch for $10,000.
Bustamante’s challenge was to provide an attractive facility at a low cost to the player, and get materials and labor donated to build the field. Sponsorship and donation of supplies by companies within the paintball industry for projects like this is not all that common, because paintball fields are the customer base of the manufacturers and distributors - that would basically be giving product away for free, rather than exchanging it for a form of advertising that would promote them to their customer base (what most sponsorship is.)
Palm Bay has very successful softball fields which are sponsored by local businesses rather than softball manufacturers, so Bustamante took a similar approach with Hurricane Paintball Park. Local businesses donated over $80,000 in supplies, including lumber, paint, and a semi-permanent awning complete with a fluorescent lighting grid inside.
The biggest cost for Hurricane's site improvements came in the form of spectator boundary netting, which ate up most of the start-up budget. The other area of hard costs came from rental equipment - masks, paintguns, equipment to fill compressed air and CO2 tanks, etc. Rather than take on this investment, Palm Bay Parks and Recreation department got around this by putting it out to bid. At least 3 paintball store operators in the area considered the project, but only one submitted a bid meeting all of the city’s requirements. General Chester’s Paintball of Palm Bay now acts as a partner with the city, selling paint and providing rental equipment, as well as taking on some of the field’s staffing duties.
The field itself started off as overgrown woods. Fortunately the Parks and Recreation Department has its own earthmoving equipment, so clearing out a parking lot, and removing underbrush where needed wasn’t a problem. Construction of firebases was done largely by members of the Rogue Warriors as well as other volunteers. These players took what they’d learned playing at scenario oriented fields like Wayne’s World in Ocala, FL and set up buildings, walls, bunkers, and even bridges across the field’s creek. For their long hours of work building the field, the volunteers were rewarded with lifetime field passes.
Even with the physical site in place, a paintball field needs a staff. Bustamante laid out a plan where the field would operate on Saturdays and Sundays with two half day sessions each day. Referees and other field staff could work one session, and play the other. This would reduce the cost of play, as well as reduce the city’s operating cost. Another move to make the use of the park more affordable and attractive to area players was to make it a byop field. Most paintball fields in central Florida require that paint be purchased at the field. Except for scenario games and tournaments where extra services are offered on site, Hurricane Paintball will be allowing players to bring their own paint. Field fees are set at $12 for an adult half-day session and $7.50 for a youth aged 10-17. As the 2004 paintball season unfolds, Hurricane Paintball will be hosting special events, including a Nocer Productions scenario game, and citywide tournaments.
Even with the low pricing, the field is structured with a relatively low operating cost. Bustamante expects the park to create a profit for the city through additional community support such as the sales of advertising banners which is common practice with baseball parks. If the field is a financial success, further expansion and improvement is expected.
All of the hard work done over the summer and fall came to fruition on Novemeber 29th as the City of Palm Bay held the grand opening for Hurricane Paintball Park.
The week before, Parks and Recreation held a free play day for those involved in building and launching the park, providing lunch, paint and rental equipment. Games took place on both the speedball and scenario fields. City officials including councilman Andy Anderson and City Manager Lee Feldman.
During his first game Councilman Anderson attacked the field’s main firebase and was eliminated by a hit on his chest. “This is cool!” he said, walking over to the field’s netted sidelines. Both Anderson and Feldman commented to Bustamante that they were impressed with the field and were in favor of stepping up the schedule for future improvements like paved parking, sidewalks and streetlights.
Community owned paintball parks are
still very rare, but Julio Bustamante hopes that Palm Bay’s park will become
a model for other cities throughout the US that want to provide safety
and affordability for their paintball playing residents.
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