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Study: Enough demand for sports complex

Wednesday, October 28, 2009  
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By Jeff Kolkey
RRSTAR.COM
Posted Oct 28, 2009 @ 05:19 PM
Last update Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:30 PM

ROCKFORD — A new sports complex could inject $45.7 million into the slumping local economy and expand recreational options for the region, according to a Rockford Park District study unveiled today.

How to pay for the initial $16.6 million to $25 million facility and whether it’s a worthy investment are questions Park Board commissioners will consider in the months ahead.

The feasibility study examined a proposed 93,171-square-foot “Rockford Sports Complex” that could house summer basketball tournaments and found sufficient demand to support the project. It also found that placing the facility at Rockford College could cost millions of dollars less than at Sportscore Two in Loves Park, but there are pros and cons to each site.

The facility would draw thousands of people, including players and their families each summer, who would spend money at local businesses, hotels, restaurants, gas stations, retail outlets and entertainment venues, said Rockford Park District Executive Director Tim Dimke.

Can’t drain tax dollars
“It has huge potential,” said Dimke, noting that whatever plan is ultimately developed cannot be a burden to the Park District budget or to taxpayers. “Not only does it have a potential to turn a profit for the operator, but also has huge, huge potential for returns to this community.”

Results of the $60,000 study were released today at a presentation inside Memorial Hall in downtown Rockford. The cost was split among Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Loves Park, Winnebago County, the Park District and Park Ridge businessman Tim Nieder.

A new sports complex is far from a done deal but if built could not only mean millions of dollars for the local economy but also $3.8 million in tax revenue, according to the C.H. Johnson Consulting analysis.

The Park District would own the structure and lease it to a private operator who would run 10 to 13 weeks of weeklong basketball tournament camps in the summer. Nieder brought such a concept to Park District officials this year with hopes of partnering with the district.

Special taxing districts, bonds and private investments are among the options for financing the endeavor, though further study will be needed to determine the best financial model.
Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen likes the idea of capitalizing on Rockford’s reputation as a youth sports destination to boost the local economy. He said the Park District should make private investment in construction part of its request for proposal process as it searches for a summer tenant to run the basketball camp.

Campus comes ready-made
Rockford College could be a less expensive location for the complex than Sportscore Two because there are existing dormitories on campus that could be used for summer camps. But because of the college schedule, the dorms would only be available 10 weeks a year. The basketball tournament camps could run for 13 weeks. Building adequate dormitory and cafeteria amenities at Sportscore Two could add $9 million to the initial price tag, but the facility would fit in well on the site that’s already a center of youth sports activity.

In a prepared statement, Rockford College President Robert Head said he is pleased the campus is being considered for the site of the Rockford Sports Complex, but that more study and consideration are needed.

“As the (Rockford Park District) moves forward in their assessment, if it is determined we are a preferred site in their evaluation, we will consider the ramifications for the college on our future land uses and the impact on our students and their collegiate experience,” said Head, adding that it would be premature to comment further.

Park District to benefit, too
Though Rockford was named “Sportstown USA” for Illinois by Sports Illustrated in 2004, it’s been seven years since the debut of Sportscore Two, the last major investment in sports facilities in the Rockford area. The centerpiece of the Loves Park athletic campus is the Indoor Sports Center, which is used for volleyball and soccer.

A new Rockford Sports Complex would not only bring millions of tourism dollars to the region, but also allow for expansion of Rockford Park District offerings for residents.

The summer tenant, likely a basketball camp operator, would provide weeklong tournaments for players age 8 to 12 during the summer. They would come to the tournament with a team of about 10 players and two coaches. There would be pool play with a single-elimination tournament at the end of each week.

The camp is envisioned to provide a unique, all-inclusive experience, including dormitory-style lodging and cafeteria-style food service for a flat fee. The MetroCentre could be used for championship games and opening and closing ceremonies during each week of the camps. Utilizing the MetroCentre saves money because an arena wouldn’t need to be built from scratch to accommodate those events.

Versatile setup
When the proposed Rockford Sports Complex isn’t used for the basketball tournaments, the Park District can use it for soccer, football, lacrosse and other indoor athletic activities. The building could be configured so that three smaller soccer fields or one full-size soccer field could be installed for the nine months of the year when it’s not used for basketball.

Meanwhile, the Indoor Sports Center that is now used for soccer and volleyball could be freed up to accommodate other hard court sports like basketball, wrestling and cheerleading.

“Sufficient demand exists to support both the nine months of Park District programming and the summer tenant at either (Rockford College or Sportscore Two),” the study states.

And “provided a summer tenant is able to make a rental payment that at a minimum covers the debt service payments” and sufficient operating expenses for the dorm and cafeteria facilities, “the project is financially feasible, and the Park District could offer this new indoor sports facility to the community for low fees and no tax cost.”

Staff writer Jeff Kolkey can be reached at jkolkey@rrstar.com or at 815-987-1374.

This story appeared at http://www.rrstar.com/news/x884493108/Study-Demand-would-support-sports-complex on October 28, 2009.


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