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Game Changers: Updated, new sports complexes boost tourism, but officials seek anchor facility

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Between expansion at existing facilities, newly opened complexes and developments in progress, the Ozarks area is jumping at the chance to grow its options for sports.

In the last year, Springfield City Council has been in discussions about two projects with combined planned investments exceeding $20 million – an upgrade to Lake Country Soccer Inc. and the new SGF Sports LLC complex west of Deer Lake Golf Course.

Meanwhile in December, D1 Sports announced a 20-acre complex planned in Ozark, and 417 Athletics opened a $5 million, 55,000-square-foot facility in Mount Vernon.

John Markey, executive director of Lake Country Soccer, said part of the sports industry growth comes from increasingly organized youth sports leagues, including club organizations that are not affiliated with schools

“When there’s a need, entrepreneurs are going to step up and they’re going to take advantage of that need and provide facilities,” Markey said.

Lance Kettering, director of the Springfield Sports Commission, said the demand for these facilities has always been there, and tournament organizers are looking for better quality fields than what Springfield currently can offer.

Meeting those needs comes with a big advantage: sports tourism.

“Sports tourism is powerful; it’s impactful,” Kettering said. “A lot of times cities were investing in convention centers to invest in business travelers – it’s the same thing with sports.”

Anchor facilities
Kettering said the attention of developers and the sports commission right now is on improving what options are offered in the area. A 2019 study of Springfield’s sports facilities by sports tourism consulting firm Huddle Up Group LLC, found the city lacked anchor facilities, or those that have enough courts or fields to host major events.

Huddle Up Group defines the anchor threshold for flat field facilities, such as soccer complexes, at a minimum of 16 fields, while hardwood courts must have a minimum of eight basketball and 16 volleyball courts, and diamond complexes for baseball or softball must include 12 fields.

To be tournament friendly, the threshold is lower at a minimum of eight flat fields, four basketball and eight volleyball courts, and a minimum of eight diamond fields.

After analyzing Springfield’s offerings, the Huddle Up Group report recommended adding a new facility to the city that could meet anchor specifications and attract more events. By doing that, the report estimated Springfield could draw in $16 million in visitor spending, nearly 21,000 hotel room nights and over $160,000 in sales tax collections each year.

Utilizing the results of the report, Kettering said the Springfield Sports Commission identified the area’s top four needs: adding an anchor indoor sports facility; expanding Lake Country Soccer into an anchor flat-field complex; increasing offerings for baseball and softball fields; and upgrading Springfield’s BMX track. Kettering said the commission does not have a specific timeline for meeting the goals.

On the northwest side, the planned Springfield Sports Complex developed by Oklahoma-based Philcrest Properties Inc. and L5 Management & Consulting, calls for 12 soccer fields, including one turf championship field, and a 90,000-square-foot indoor facility. The indoor center would include two soccer fields and four basketball courts that can convert into eight volleyball courts.

Kettering said the new complex would not be considered an anchor facility but would be able to host tournaments and potentially work with other complexes in the area to hold larger events. Planned improvements at Lake Country have the potential to make it into the flat-field anchor facility Springfield lacks, Kettering said.

Both the new complex and Lake Country Soccer projects have received support from City Council in the form of promised economic investment. In March, council members approved an infrastructure funding agreement with the developer of Springfield Sports Complex to provide $2.1 million in reimbursement for public improvements on the site, as long as the development was completed.

Council also has declared intent to financially assist the development at Lake Country Soccer – which is on Springfield-Greene County Park Board land – with the potential of investing $5 million upfront for improvements.

Power of turf
For soccer complexes, having turf fields over grass is a component that has become increasingly important to tournament organizers.

Markey said that is the driving force behind the complex’s planned $10 million expansion.

Lake Country Soccer improvements include the addition of eight turf fields along with improvements to the 10 existing grass fields. The complex currently has one turf field.

“In order to compete with other communities and bring the economic dollars into Springfield, it just became a need,” Markey said. “Kansas City has grown their turf fields drastically because St. Louis has, and vice-versa. Everyone wants those economic-impact dollars because it helps everyone in the city.”

Markey said in previous years, Lake Country has had to cancel large soccer tournaments due to rain, which creates muddy, rutted and unsafe fields for the players. A few years ago, Lake Country had to cancel a tournament of over 200 teams due to rain – equating to almost $3 million in lost economic impact for the city, Markey said.

“Since then, tournaments have dropped because teams just say, ‘We don’t want to take a chance of being canceled, so let’s go to these that are holding tournaments on turf fields,’” Markey said. “You’ve got that in Kansas City, St. Louis and Boonville. They can hold the same tournaments, and there’s no chance of being canceled for just rain.”

Markey said while Lake Country Soccer has been lucky to continue hosting the tournaments they have; it is likely down about 30% from where it should be.

On average, Markey said a 150-person tournament draws about $3.4 million in economic impact for the city from hotel stays and other money spent by participating teams and spectators. If Lake Country Soccer had more fields and turf field options, Markey said the additional tournaments could have a $12 million economic impact each year.

“It’s really going to start putting Springfield on the map as a destination for sports events,” Markey said. “I think that’s one area we really have been lacking a little bit within the city, and this is going to start answering those questions for us.”

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