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The Springfield-Greene County Park Board is in the business of recreation, and business is booming.
Since its formation in 1913, the city- and county-affiliated system has grown to encompass 104 park sites, including the Cooper Tennis Complex, Dickerson Park Zoo, botanical garden and four golf courses. The Park Board maintains some 3,200 acres of park land, which includes more than 100 miles of recreational trails. Behind it all is a balanced budget of $31 million, with no general revenue funds coming from the city or county, officials say.
Parks Director Bob Belote says estimates point to more than 3.1 million people who visit the system’s parks annually. Those visitors are served by around 270 full-time employees, with 600 to 700 seasonal, temporary and contract employees each year.
“The community is engaged in parks here. Any kind of honor we get is obviously one we share with the community,” Belote says.
To keep its employees on board and supporting the parks system, the Park Board is implementing voter-approved Missouri minimum wage increases, despite the fact that the organization is technically exempt as a government agency.
The park system also is an economic developer booster, Belote says, as sports tourism alone is estimated to generate some $15 million in visitor spending.
“It gives us a competitive advantage,” he says.
To better capitalize, Belote says the Park Board commissioned a formal economic impact study scheduled to start this summer.
Belote says the study will look at visitors and their impact on the economy, as well as health care cost savings brought on by healthy parkgoers, stormwater improvements and the “true impact we have on property values.”
“I’m really excited about what that study is going to tell us,” he says.
In the sports arena, the Park Board also owns the Springfield Lasers, which last year won the World TeamTennis championship for the first time in the team’s 23-year history.
“I feel like we’re blessed to be affiliated with that,” he says. “We hook a lot of people on that.”
Belote says the WTT win is helping put the team – and Springfield – on the map.
“We’re very much in a baseball and basketball community. I get that, and that’s cool,” he says. “Having said that, I think the Lasers and having the uniqueness of Cooper … that’s just unheard of.”
The Park Board announced in May it would invest $500,000 in interior renovations at the Cooper Tennis Complex, the home of the Lasers.
Plans call for resurfacing the tennis courts and new nets and posts, among other work.
“That facility’s been recognized twice by the U.S. Tennis Association as the national facility of the year,” Belote says.
The Park Board also operates Rutledge-Wilson Farm, Jordan Valley Ice Park, Springfield Skate Park and the Miracle League Ball Field, among several other community amenities.
For its efforts, the Park Board last year was named to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, the first parks department to ever be inducted, Belote says.
Urban Studios LLC, a natural light photography studio and pop-up event space, opened; the Missouri State University Foundation became the new owner of event venue The Old Glass Place; and Polk County’s dining scene expanded with the opening of Flat Creek.