February 27, 2021

Square Feet: Youth Sports Park in Kentucky to Bolster Tourism

The 150-acre Elizabethtown Sports Park, set to open next summer, will have 12 baseball and softball diamonds, 10 natural turf soccer and football fields, 2 full-size synthetic turf fields and a diamond for physically disabled athletes. The sports park also includes powerful lighting, six concession buildings, pavilions to house meeting spaces and locker rooms, four playgrounds, Wi-Fi access so events can be viewed live on the Internet and a three-mile-long running and walking path that circles the complex.

Last year, American families spent an estimated $7 billion traveling with their children to youth sports tournaments, said Don Schumacher, the executive director of the National Association of Sports Commissions, a group based in Cincinnati that represents tournament organizers and hosting facilities.

The youth sports travel segment, as it is called, is a little less than 10 percent of the national leisure travel industry, estimated at $77 billion, he said — and it is growing by 3 to 5 percent annually, faster than most other segments. The industry is considered somewhat recession-proof, as families eager to provide their children with tournament-level competition are using the trips as vacations.

Among the first private developers to recognize the trend was the Walt Disney Company, which spent $100 million to turn 220 acres at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., into a youth sports complex that opened in 1997. The park, now named the ESPN Wide World of Sports, includes a 9,500-seat baseball stadium, an arena and fields and facilities for basketball, football, soccer, tennis, volleyball and other sports.

The Elizabethtown Sports Park is publicly financed by a restaurant sales tax that was enacted in 2007. It will be one of the largest such complexes in the country, Mr. Schumacher said, with the ability to host four- and five-day tournaments that will attract hundreds of teams and thousands of spectators from across the Southeast.

“They are going to be able to fill a lot of hotel rooms and restaurants,” he said. “Communities that have youth sports complexes understand that visitor spending is an important part of their local economies.”

About 90 miles west of Elizabethtown is Owensboro, Ky., an Ohio River city of 57,265. It was among the first communities in the Southeast to publicly finance fields and facilities to capture the youth sports travel market. In 2001, the city hosted 52 girls softball teams for a tournament in one of its parks that had undergone a $400,000 overhaul to build modern diamonds.

The event attracted hundreds of players, and thousands of parents and siblings who filled Owensboro’s hotels, said Jared Bratcher, the sports marketing director for the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was the first big travel tournament here,” Mr. Bratcher said. “When it ended, the hotel and restaurant owners went to the city and said they wanted more of that.”

Owensboro complied. It spent $2.26 million to build four football/soccer fields at the 52-acre Waymond Morris Park. Daviess County also built 12 soccer fields at Horse Fork Park. There are now a total of 18 baseball and softball diamonds.

The youth sports infrastructure in Owensboro last year attracted 41 travel tournaments, nearly 60,000 visitors, and accounted for $19.9 million in hotel, restaurant and other travel-related spending in the region, according to a report by the convention and visitors bureau.

Elizabethtown’s travel industry executives and elected leaders said in interviews that the intention for their new sports park was to mimic Owensboro’s success.

From a rise at the dusty construction site, the full expanse of the Elizabethtown Sports Park is visible. Construction workers are building the compact concrete and brick buildings that will house concessions and meeting spaces. Roads and parking lots are being leveled and prepared for paving. Electricians are installing stadium-quality lighting on long poles. Equipment operators are readying 40 acres of playing fields under the direction of James D. Bergdoll, a turf specialist trained at Purdue who worked as a major league baseball groundskeeper.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c5dd99e07087cba68e7fa496763d986e

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