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Sportscore One options to be studied

Saturday, October 09, 2010  
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By Jeff Kolkey
RRSTAR.COM
Posted Oct 09, 2010 @ 11:35 PM
Last update Oct 11, 2010 @ 12:13 PM

ROCKFORD — Officials are enlisting Rockford College to analyze sports tourism data that could help decide what to do about Sportscore One as floodwaters and competition are eroding Rockford’s share of the amateur sports market.

For three consecutive years, Sportscore One soccer fields and softball fields have flooded, forcing tournament organizers to cancel or move games.

Now Executive Director Tim Dimke said even local teams are hesitating to commit to league play at Sportscore One for fear it could get flooded out. Dimke wonders if now is the time the region must invest in a new location to maintain its place in the region’s amateur sports market landscape, or watch it slip to a second-tier status.

"The community and the Park District have to seriously consider the options,” Dimke said.

Among them is the construction of a 122,000-square-foot "Rockford Sports Complex,” an indoor facility that wouldn’t be subjected to the whims of weather and could set a new industry trend. It could host indoor soccer during the winter and weeklong overnight indoor basketball camp tournaments each summer.

Another option is relocating Sportscore One, which although built in a 100-year floodplain only recently has developed the habit of flooding.

Flooding a problem
Park District officials can recall only one significant flood in the park’s first 20 years. But officials said land development upstream has sent more runoff down the Rock River and ultimately to the Mississippi River.

Now the park has flooded in three consecutive years, disrupting tournaments and games affecting thousands of players, said Ron Butler, deputy director of operations for the Park District.

"We have to look at relocating,” Butler said. "We don’t have any land and we have no funding, but we are starting the process of looking at that because we won’t be able to do business if we can’t retain out-of-town tournaments to keep prices down and reasonable for local users.”

Search for funding
Amateur sports is a $6.5- billion-a-year industry in the United States. Plenty of cities are trying to cash in, building sports complexes with artificial turf and lighted fields that eclipse facilities that put Rockford on the youth sports map in the first place.

An estimated $22.8 million Rockford Sports Complex could draw thousands of players from around the Midwest for indoor soccer during the winter and unique overnight basketball camps during the summer, generating millions of dollars for the local economy and giving local residents access to a new state-of-the-art facility.

But burdening taxpayers with the investment appears out of the question, especially in a still struggling economy. Officials are looking for alternative ways to fund investment in sports facilities through a package of taxes, leases and rental fees generated by the tourists the facility would attract.

Rockford College role
That’s where Rockford College MBA candidates can help, said Steve Kadamian, an assistant business professor.

There are eight working adults in Kadamian’s business research methods class that over the years has completed dozens of research projects for nonprofit organizations.

One group of the students will study and collect data and survey information to determine the economic effect Sportscore One and Sportscore Two have on the economy. It will also determine how spending by different types of tournaments and teams differ and by how much.

The information could give the Park District and the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau a precise way to measure how much money sports tournaments pump into the economy. That could determine whether the public is willing to invest tax dollars into an expansion of sports facilities.

Kadamian said the other project is to put together a competitive analysis of what sports facilities are offered in other cities, what funding mechanisms were used to build them, what is coming soon and what kind of facilities are most in demand.

"To do a study of this size takes a tremendous amount of time, and this is valuable research,” Kadamian said.

Stiff competition
Built in 1983 on 105 acres, Sportscore One removed tournament and league play from Rockford neighborhoods where it had become a nuisance.

Its eight lighted softball diamonds and eight regulation soccer fields concentrated in one park, combined with Rockford’s ample hotel accommodations, was something tournament organizers in northern Illinois had never seen before, said Brenda Paulson.

Illinois director for the United States Specialty Sports Association, Paulson said Rockford developed a reputation as the top destination in the Midwest for softball and soccer tournaments. But she said it didn’t take long for other cities to emulate what Rockford was doing.

Today, there is competition everywhere. Elgin, Joliet, Aurora and cities across northern Illinois and the Midwest have attempted to outbuild Rockford and each other.

"We used to be the sports capital of northern Illinois until they started building these complexes with multiple diamonds and lights,” Paulson said. "Now Rockford is one of the many. But I think Rockford is a sports town and we should go for it.”

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

This story appeared at http://www.rrstar.com/carousel/x656693331/In-Sundays-paper-Sportscore-One-options-to-be-studied on October 9, 2010.

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