A new multimillion-dollar sports complex on the city’s northwest side near the Springfield-Branson National Airport is about to take off.
Nov. 18 is the grand opening for the Betty & Bobby Allison Sports Town, a development on 105 acres adjacent to Deer Lake Golf Course. While officials say the project experienced several months of delays to build its 94,000-square-foot indoor facility, the work is nearly done, said Sports Town General Manager Stacie Wells.
Crews from general contractor Crossland Construction Co. Inc. have remained on-site this month as they work toward the deadline. Wells remained confident the building, which also has a 10,000-square-foot overhang for concessions and bathrooms, will be ready for its public debut this month.
“I’m so anxious. We’re definitely ready,” she said of Sports Town’s 15-employee team.
It’s a staff size Wells expects to rapidly increase after the opening of the indoor facility, which has four basketball courts that can be converted to eight volleyball courts. It also has two indoor soccer fields.
“Within the next month, we’ll probably have close to 75 employees,” Wells said.
Sports Town also features 12 outdoor sports fields – four of them with all-weather turf. Those were completed early in the project and have been in use for much of the year for soccer and football competitions, officials say.
Wells is among several staff members awaiting completion of their offices. Her “office” last week was a chair and a makeshift desk for her laptop on the edge of one of the basketball courts.
“We’re all ready to be in an office of our own space and not listening to that sound all the time,” she said, as construction noise echoed in the facility. “But we’re very thankful for Crossland.”
The estimated cost for the complex, a sports destination planned by SGF Sports LLC through a partnership with Philcrest Properties and L5 Management & Consulting, was originally $20 million in private investment, along with $2 million in infrastructure costs reimbursed by the city. Businessperson and philanthropist Bobby Allison, who died in September, pledged last year between $3 million and $3.5 million for fields and signage with naming rights, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
However, the delays, attributed to staffing and materials shortages, as well as the increased cost of construction products, have pushed the price tag to $30 million, Wells said.
“COVID took a hard hit on this project,” she said, noting the city declined Sports Town’s request for $4 million of American Recue Plan Act funds.
The delays also resulted in the cancelation of a couple of basketball tournaments in October and November, Wells said.
“Yes, that’s frustrating, but everybody’s been completely understanding,” she said. “They know it’s completely out of our hands. We definitely want them to be in here. Weekend tournaments is where we’re going to get most of our business.”
Wells, who was hired as GM in January, is very familiar with sports complexes, as she previously served eight years as director of the Fieldhouse Sportscenter. The 46,000-square-foot facility was purchased last year by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board for $6 million, according to past reporting.
Whether it’s hosting tournaments, soccer leagues or volleyball practices for 417 Juniors, which, along with Sporting Springfield soccer club, rents space at Sports Town, Wells said the complex’s building will be utilized year-round.
“It has to be. Since we are privately owned, it’s a completely different ballgame than a city-operated facility,” she said. “We don’t have those tax dollars that continually keep us afloat if we have a bad month. Privately owned has to be functioning and busy.”
Wells estimates the development’s revenue needs to be around $2.5 million annually to stay in the black.
“Projecting for next year, we can probably hit at least the $2 million mark if we can get everything up and running like it needs to be,” she said, noting weekend indoor tournament bookings are being added on the calendar as far out as 2025.
“Indoorwise, we’re probably 70%-75% booked,” she said of weekends next year. “There’s still opportunities during the week that we’ll have to fill up. Outdoors, we’re probably sitting around 20%. That’s definitely an area we need to promote and get growing.”
Lance Kettering, executive director of the Springfield Sports Commission, said garnering interest from private investors to open a facility of the magnitude of Sports Town is significant for the city.
“It’s no easy task to put together a project of that size and complexity,” he said. “It shows how our community supports sports, and they have confidence in our community to support that effort.”
Kettering believes the project could also show future developers – either in or outside the area – about the possibilities for sports complexes in town.
“A lot of times you talk about universities and colleges being the window to your community,” he said. “This has a real chance of doing the same thing from a sports tourism angle.”
Sports Town is part of a growing athletics tourism market in Springfield. Earlier this month, the Park Board and Lake Country Soccer kicked off $25 million in facility improvements with a ceremonial groundbreaking at the Cooper Park Sports Complex.
The project, estimated to take three years, calls for synthetic turf at 19 soccer, baseball and softball fields at Cooper Park, stadium enhancements, additional spectator seating, locker rooms, restrooms, concession stands, accessible pathways and parking.
It has received $13.5 million in ARPA funds from the state, $7.3 million in ARPA funds from the city and some $630,000 from the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau. Funding is currently over $21 million, and the Park Board and Lake Country Soccer are fundraising for the remainder, according to past reporting.
Additionally, Kettering said construction for a new facility at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds & Event Center is going to start soon. The $15 million project calls for a multipurpose arena and youth agriculture education center, according to past reporting. One of the uses of the arena could be for volleyball tournaments and motorsports, according to fairgrounds officials.
The Springfield projects seek to grab a piece of a large pie in the national sports tourism field.
Sports Event & Tourism Association’s 2021 State of the Industry report noted an economic impact of $91.8 billion last year from sports tourism, which also generated $12.9 billion in tax revenue and 635,000 jobs. The U.S. sports tourism sector generated $39.7 billion in direct spending in 2021, according to the report.
Athletic competitions aren’t the only draw planned at Sports Town, Wells said. She said the 27 acres fronting Chestnut Expressway has drawn some interest for commercial development. Two hotels, as well as a restaurant concept, are planned for the site with groundwork expected to start in the first half of 2023, she said, declining to elaborate.
Kettering said he’s anxious to see Sports Town fully opened to the public. He called the investment “high impact” to the community and those who will use it.
“It should spur and lead to future growth in all other sports-related activities and programming,” he said.
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