Where are they now?

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This is another in a series on area executives and political and community leaders who have played prominent roles in the development of Downtown or Jacksonville as a whole over the years. Some are still in the area, working or retired or a bit of both. Some have moved away and are working in other areas of the state or country. The series continues with Mike Sullivan, formerly the City’s top sports development executive.

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

What he did:

City of Jacksonville director of Sports Development

Executive Director, Sports & Entertainment Board

Deputy Director, Jacksonville Sports Complex

What he’s doing now:

Executive Director, Sioux Falls, S.D. Sports Authority

When Mike Sullivan got an offer for a job in Sioux Falls, S.D. it represented a pair of interesting and attractive opportunities. First, it was a chance to return to his hometown and second, it represented an opportunity to be part of another city’s emergence as a sports and entertainment destination.

By the time Sullivan retired from the City in 2007 after 23 years of service, he had witnessed Jacksonville’s transition from a small Southern town that was home to a couple of high-profile college football games to an NFL city that didn’t have to have “Florida” after its name any more. Along the way, other college football, baseball and basketball games, tournaments and championships had also become part of the city’s sports landscape.

Sullivan then began a second career in the private sector with Axcess Sports & Entertainment, a local company founded by former Jacksonville Jaguars executive Michael Huyghue. Sullivan developed new projects and headed the agency’s special events division. He also served as acting liaison to the mayor’s office and the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission (JEDC).

Several months later, he got a call from Sioux Falls that presented the chance to not only return to his hometown, but also helm an effort to again help develop a thriving sports reputation.

“I’m having fun,” said Sullivan. “This is the first time Sioux Falls has had a sports authority, so I’m still in the process of setting up the operation, everything from insurance to office supplies.”

The operation reminds Sullivan of the old Jacksonville Sports Development Authority, which he ran until it was made a division of the JEDC and he became executive director of the Sports & Entertainment Board.

“It’s just me and a loaned executive and a 15-member board of business owners and CEOs. We’re completely privately funded, which is probably a good thing in this day and age, and not related to the City of Sioux Falls,” he said.

Sullivan has a good base to begin the process of expanding Sioux Falls’ sports profile. It’s already home to the Skyforce, a National Basketball Association Developmental League team; the Stampede, a USHL ice hockey team; the Canaries, an Independent League baseball team; and the Storm, a United Indoor Football League team that last week won its fourth consecutive league championship.

Sullivan said his first task was to evaluate the available venues to determine what the sites were capable of hosting. Sioux Falls is home to a 10,000-seat football and track facility, a 4,200-seat baseball park that Sullivan described as “similar to the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville but smaller,” and a 7,100-seat arena built in 1961.

“We need a new arena. What we have now really reminds me of the old Coliseum in Jacksonville,” said Sullivan. “Minor league sports have been very successful here and we want to keep that success going. Our job is to offer the people of Sioux Falls a variety of sports entertainment. We also need to build new facilities. That takes money, but we have a lot of support from the business community.”

Sullivan moved to Sioux Falls in January and the South Dakota winter was a bit of climate shock.

“One day the wind chill was 40 degrees below zero, but it still didn’t make me miss the Florida heat,” he said, then added, “I miss the people in Jacksonville. I enjoyed everything I did while I was there and I was lucky to be there when I was. I see a lot of the same things happening here. Maybe after we build a new arena for Sioux Falls I can have my second retirement here.”

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