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Support remains strong for proposed sports complex

Wednesday, March 03, 2010  
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By Jeff Kolkey
RRSTAR.COM
Posted Mar 03, 2010 @ 11:01 PM
Last update Mar 04, 2010 @ 12:18 AM

ROCKFORD — Area officials still believe in the potential of a sports complex to host summer basketball tournaments.

But one very important question has yet to be answered: Who’s going to pay for all this?

The still-sputtering economy means municipal budgets continue to shrink, but officials, led by Rockford Park District Director Tim Dimke, are committed to the findings of a $60,000 study that said the 94,000-square-foot sports complex could mean nearly $50 million in annual tourism dollars.

City Administrator Jim Ryan said the city’s financial constraints may not allow it to contribute financially.
 
But because expansion of the city’s tourism market will diversify the local economy, city staff could contribute analysis services on some remaining issues, he said.

"Despite the fact that we have an economy that is so poor right now, we have to look at new opportunities for growth,” Ryan said.

Ryan said a similar effort was made after the 1982 recession, when a push for amateur sports and expanded soccer fields led to the Rockford area carving out a niche as an amateur sports destination.
Representatives from Winnebago County, Rockford, Loves Park, the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Rockford Park District are taking stock of what services they could offer in-house to advance the project.

Although the feasibility study said the complex could be successful, it left in doubt whether it should be located on the Rockford College campus or at Sportscore Two in Loves Park — each of which has advantages and disadvantages. How the estimated $16.6 million to $25 million complex would be paid for initially also was left unanswered.

And still to be determined are what tenants would anchor the facility, who would pay for construction and how taxpayers would be reimbursed for the costs.

Dimke said a consultant or contractor is needed to seek out potential tenants, design requests for proposals and analyze the responses. Private donations could be sought to pay for some of the cost of a consultant.

The project would not only draw tourists to the region, but also expand recreational opportunities for residents, he said.

The Park District would own the complex, leasing it to tournament organizers. In the summer, a private operator would run 10 to 13 weeklong overnight summer basketball camps. In winter, it could be converted to turf and used for soccer, football, lacrosse and other turf sports.

Meanwhile, the Indoor Sports Center, which anchors Sportscore Two in Loves Park, would be changed so that it would be home to hard court sports such as basketball, volleyball, wrestling and cheerleading year-round.

Dimke said he expects this round of analysis to last about six months. Over the next 60 days, he expects the group to narrow down whether Sportscore Two or Rockford College is the better location.
Rockford College could be less expensive with existing dormitories and a cafeteria, but would host fewer tournaments because of its academic schedule. But the complex fits in well with Sportscore Two, which is already a youth sports destination.

Rockford College President Robert Head said he remains cautiously optimistic about the prospect of the sports complex being built on campus. The college would benefit from publicity and recruitment potential, although some logistical challenges need to be addressed.

"We should be able to use some of our underutilized resources during the summer like the cafeteria and dormitories,” Head said. "And it’s a great opportunity to expose Rockford College to thousands of young men and women who would participate in the summer tournaments.”

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

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