PANAMA CITY BEACH — With COVID-19 in its rear-view mirror and tourism booming on the Beach, the Publix Sports Park is on track to have its busiest year, officials say. 

According to Mike Higgins, general manager of the park located off Chip Seal Parkway, the facility is projected to generate more than $1.5 million this year, about $230,000 more than in 2021.

Though officials have said the city's record-breaking tourism numbers in 2021 were inflated by pent-up travel demands created in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, Higgins noted some event planners still were hesitant to schedule sports tournaments because of the virus. 

For him, this makes 2022 the first full year of normal operations for the 13-field complex which opened in July 2019. 

"We're just now coming out of COVID (and) hitting our full stride," said Higgins, who did not release how much the park has earned so far this year. "I'd say (by) late summer and fall, we'll start seeing more regularity and what the (park's) full potential will be, but (2022 is) going really well."

He said the park hosted 47 "anchor events" in 2021. It already has held 17 in 2022, with 35 more scheduled for the year as of Thursday. 

Anchor events are multi-day events often held on weekends that draw out-of-town teams. They do not include local events such as community baseball games and recreational leagues. 

"The park is much busier than just those anchor events, but (they) are the ones that really drive most of the revenue," Higgins said. 

Lacee Rudd, spokeswoman for Visit Panama City Beach, said Publix Sports Park is a big reason the area has made a name for itself in the sports tourism market, helping stimulate the local economy during the spring and fall months.