Sports study recommends turf infield, indoor facility

No new outdoor facilities needed

In February, the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau approved a $12,500 contract with Pinnacle Indoor Sports of Louisville for a study of the community’s needs for sports facilities.

“We are at a critical point,” Mark Calitri, CVB president, said at the time. “Our challenge is to be able to fill more hotel rooms with two more hotels opening this year and another on the way. We have to generate more occupancy.”

And tournaments are a way of drawing visitors to town and filling hotel beds.

Pinnacle recently completed its study, which included interviewing 51 organizations about the sports facility needs of the community.

It recommended that the infields of the four diamonds at Jack C. Fisher Park be replaced with artificial turf and that a 60,000-square-foot indoor sports facility be built in either central Owensboro or on the east side of town.

But the study did not provide cost estimates of the improvements.

It recommended against any new outdoor facilities.

“We wanted them to tell us what we don’t need as well as what we do,” Calitri said.

Now, the CVB has to figure out a way to pay for the improvements the study did recommend.

“We are aware of the need for improvements at Jack C. Fisher Park,” Nate Pagan, Owensboro city manager, said last week. “Amanda Rogers (the city’s parks and recreation director) has another study underway that’s looking at potential improvements to the fields. That should be ready in late October. It will include estimates of the cost.”

He said, “I would guess that we would do any work over the winter to avoid conflicts with tournaments — but probably the winter of 2019-20.”

Rogers said that last year Jack C. Fisher Park hosted 21 tournaments with 557 teams from across the country.

The report doesn’t mention the six diamonds at Yellow Creek and Panther Creek parks.

But Judge-Executive Al Mattingly said the county probably won’t install turf infields at its parks.

“It’s going to be expensive,” he said.

Turf would expand season

Jared Bratcher, sports marketing director for the CVB, said artificial turf would extend the park’s tournament season from early February through November.

“About the only months we couldn’t have tournaments would be December and January,” he said. “Teams don’t care about the cold. But they do care about rainouts.”

Mattingly said he can see where turf would prevent rainouts.

“But I don’t see it extending the season,” he said. “People aren’t going to want to play baseball in early March when it’s cold, windy and maybe snowing.”

Bratcher said, “The last study we did showed that sports tourism meant more than $30 million a year to the community. And that’s just the ones we’re involved with. I’m not sure we touch even half of the events. Some of the leagues do their own events without help from us.”

He said, “My guess is Fisher Park would double the number of tournaments if it had turf. And a new building for indoor sports would generate millions more a year. If we didn’t double the number of tournaments and revenue, I wouldn’t consider it a major success.”

Calitri said the CVB will begin meeting with the organizations that would use the improved Fisher Park and the proposed building.

That will likely take a few months, he said.

The need for artificial turf at Fisher Park is to prevent rainouts of games during tournaments, Bratcher said.

“We went six years without a rainout,” he said. “But weather patterns have changed. Elizabethtown had its first six tournaments rained out this year. We didn’t have that many, but we had rainouts. We’ve had to cancel a lot of games.”

If rain is in the forecast, Bratcher said, “We’ve seen a decline in teams coming in on Fridays because they’re trying to save on the cost of hotel rooms and they don’t want to risk a rainout.”

Turf, he said, “would be a game-changer. When we started getting into sports tourism 15 years ago, we had the best baseball/softball facilities around. We were the first to do a lot of things. But other cities have kind of caught up with us and built bigger and better facilities. We see a need to get back on top. This report lays out what we need to do to get there. If we want to be a leader, we have to adapt to what the customer wants.”

Westfield, Indiana, which has eight turf fields among its 26 diamonds, is the closest city with turf fields, Bratcher said.

And it’s 218 miles away — near Indianapolis.

“To have the first park with turf in a 200-mile radius would be unbelievable,” Bratcher said.

He said baseball and softball teams in the north like to come to places like Owensboro to play in the spring when the weather is still too bad at home.

Base paths on turf fields are dirt-colored turf and the white lines would be permanent, Bratcher said.

“Turf is the norm for new parks,” he said. “Teams want to play on them. It would increase our number of tournaments and teams.”

Four hard-floor courts

The proposed indoor facility would have four hard-floor courts.

“There is no room now for big basketball tournaments because we don’t have enough courts,” Bratcher said. “Volleyball is huge and archery is blowing up. We need more room for them.”

The Owensboro Convention Center was originally to be used for sports as well as conventions and trade shows.

But, for the most part, that didn’t happen.

Mattingly said he thinks the city and county taxpayers would likely have to subsidize any new facility.

“A 60,000-square-foot facility would cost $100 a square foot,” he said. “That’s $6 million not counting the land, the architect’s fee, equipment and everything else.”

Hopkinsville, Mattingly said, is building a 55,000-square-foot indoor sports complex at a cost of $5.8 million.

He said the county is ready to consider the sports facilities study, “but I don’t know if we can afford it.”

The Pinnacle report says the Owensboro market “is average in terms of the attractions it offers for sports tournaments and its ability to draw participants from a regional area. If a proposed facility were built, the city also would compete for tournaments with regional communities of similar or larger size, such as Elizabethtown, Louisville, Nashville, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Chicago.”

It said, “sports organizations representing volleyball, archery and pickleball have the highest need for indoor tournament locations, which would attract participants from outside the area. Baseball/softball teams are already utilizing Owensboro as a tournament destination, and representatives from organizations Pinnacle interviewed would like to see the existing sites upgraded to compete with newer facilities in the regional marketplace.”

The report cautions that while turf infields “would make the facility (Fisher Park) more appealing and marketable to local baseball and softball organizations seeking to host regional tournaments, as well as serve as a catalyst for a certain degree of increased economic impact, it would not, however, be a panacea or guarantee an active regional sports tournament business.”

It says, “Among the most important factors in creating a financially successful indoor sports tourism venue is “establishing a professional marketing team to promote Owensboro as an attractive sports event destination to teams from larger regional communities.”

The report says, “A multipurpose indoor hard-court facility would attract usage by area pickleball and futsal groups, according to interviews Pinnacle conducted. Weekday use by local residents would supplement revenue generated by tournaments attracting participants from around the region, helping make a new facility in Owensboro a regional sports destination for indoor events.”

One negative factor, it said, is that the community’s Hispanic/ Latino population is 3 percent of the total — well below that national rate of 18.2 percent.

That’s important, the study said, because, “Generally speaking, adult Hispanics utilize indoor and outdoor sports facilities at a higher-than-average rate for sports such as soccer and futsal. Owensboro’s low Hispanic population could have a negative impact on the long-term success of a proposed facility used for soccer.”

It also warns that “taken collectively, the population base, household income data and other demographics suggest that the Owensboro market might not be able to sustain an additional multipurpose sports facility — even though strong demand exists.”

The Pinnacle team said that Nancy Funk, assistant commissioner of the Pioneer Region of USA Volleyball, believes that “a proposed hard-court facility (could draw) tournament teams from as far as five hours away.”

An indoor facility, the report said, should include sports performance training, food service, parties, facility rentals, retail, youth development programs and corporate partnerships.

It noted that among Owensboro’s weaknesses are a lack of hotel availability and less-affordable pricing during peak summer months, a lack of offseason sports participation and a population base that does not offer large numbers of youth/adult teams, compared with other markets.

Messenger-Inquirer article written by Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, [email protected]