The SODA Blog

The official blog of the Sportsplex Operators & Developers Association

McCracken County Sports Tourism Commission gears up to find sports complex manager !

sports complex rendering

PADUCAH, KY. — The McCracken County Sports Tourism Commission is getting ready to work with a $2 million budget in the upcoming fiscal year. It will be made up of surplus from this year and money from the transient room tax. However, it doesn’t currently factor in design costs for the outdoor sports complex. That’s because there has yet to be a signed memorandum of understanding between the city of Paducah and McCracken County to fund the project. It’s in the works, but it still needs to be approved by both governments.

Despite the slight hold up, the Sports Tourism Commission is moving ahead with finding someone to run the complex. The ultimate goal is to have the facility open and able to host tournaments in 2024.

“We’ve got to be able to have everything lined up perfectly for opening day,” McCracken County Sports Tourism Commission Chair Jim Dudley said.

A key step in getting to that point is sending out a request for qualifications, or RFQ, for a potential manager or management company. Dudley is eager to get that process rolling.

“We send those RFQs out to see, hey, who’s interested in this, one, and then what all do they do, what can they do for our facility? What kind of guarantees do they come with?” Dudley said.

bluegrass downs
The complex is set to take over the old Blugrass Downs site.

Their RFQ lists 14 sought-after qualities like tournament development, sponsorship sales and daily operations. They want the manager to step in and hit the ground running to allow the complex to hit its full potential early on.

“It’s not just ‘Get the thing built and people will come,'” Dudley said. “We’ve got to start advertising now. We’ve got to start booking tournaments now, because if you’ve ever been in travel ball, you know that you’ll start scheduling your tournaments out six months to a year in advance.”

Another hurdle to jump in the budget is getting that final design paid for and completed.

“We left a big contingency in there for the cost of design, because we haven’t seen that price yet. We’re still fiscally conservative, and we’re doing everything we can to be smart with the money,” Dudley said. “Transient room tax is starting to go up as we see tourism go up, so that’s a good sign for everybody.”

Once the memorandum of understanding is approved the final design process can move forward. From there, the commission can start submitting construction documents and work toward breaking ground on the complex.

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We Can Save You Money In 2021 !

* ( 16 Different Amateur Sports ) *

( Teams, Officials, Tournaments, & Facilities ) *

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“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

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“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

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[[ Available In SODA Store Online !]]

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USSSA softball tournament brings 300+ teams — and money — to Delmarva !

USSSA softball tournament brings 300+ teams — and money — to Delmarva

Over the next three weeks, nearly 375 girls’ softball teams will make their way to Maryland’s Lower Shore as part of the United States Specialty Sports Association Eastern National Championships.

Held on Delmarva the past 15 years, the event brings in anywhere from $18 million-$20 million in economic revenue. Since 2007, nearly 3,900 teams have participated, generating a total economic impact of over $186 million, according to a news release.

The USSSA, which is one of the largest softball tournaments in the country, draws teams from up to 19 states and Canada.

The USSSA will welcome over 375 teams to Maryland's Lower Shore over the next three weeks.

The growth of the tournament is due in part to the Mid-Atlantic Amateur Sports Alliance, a formal sports marketing partnership between Wicomico and Worcester counties and Ocean City. MAASA was formed in 2014 to accommodate the growth of the Eastern National, which had expanded beyond Wicomico County’s borders.

“USSSA East and the MAASA partners worked for years to grow the Eastern National,”  Kristen Goller, tourism manager for Wicomico County, said in a release. “Because of the dedication from all sides, this event is now one of the largest fast-pitch tournaments in one location in the nation.”

READ MORE: New Chincoteague park will honor Brianna Merritt

MORE SPORTS: Parkside’s Michalski wins Coach of the Year: All-Bayside boys lacrosse selections

The schedule over the next three weeks is as follows:

The Eastern National is divided into three tournament weeks:

Week 1: July 13-18: 10U Open, 12U Open

Week 2: July 20-25: 14U Open, 14U B

Week 3: July 26-31: 16U Open, 18U Open, 18U B

Athletes who will participate in the USSSA softball tournament celebrate during the event's opening ceremony on Wednesday, July 17, 2019.

The Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex in Salisbury provides the main fields of play for the tournament, and other fields tentatively scheduled for use in Wicomico County include East Wicomico Little League, Eastside Youth Sports Complex, Mason-Dixon Sports Complex and WinterPlace Park.

In Worcester County, games are scheduled at Showell Park and John Walter Smith Park. Games will also be played at Northside Park in Ocean City.

In accordance with USSSA national guidelines, schedules will be released at the beginning of each tournament week and will be posted to the USSSA website. Tournament games are open to the public, with no admission fee charged.

For more information on the Eastern National, visit WicoSports.org.

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We Can Save You Money In 2021 !

* ( 16 Different Amateur Sports ) *

( Teams, Officials, Tournaments, & Facilities ) *

1-800-622-7370

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

www.sadlersports.com/soda

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

www.sportsplexoperators.com

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“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

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[[ Available In SODA Store Online !]]

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After nearly 16 months, Libertyville Sports Complex reopens !

Tammy Kerr, general manager for Canlan Sports on reopening day at the Libertyville Sports Complex.

Tammy Kerr, general manager for Canlan Sports on reopening day at the Libertyville Sports Complex. 

Libertyville, IL. – To thousands of motorists who pass each day on Route 45 or Peterson Road, the village-owned Libertyville Sports Complex looks much the same as in March 2020, when it was closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But a lot has happened behind the scenes, including the village’s exit from day-to-day operations. On July 1, it reopened as Canlan Sports, a Canadian-based business eager to revive the spacious facility and strengthen its brand in the suburbs.

Nick Mostardo, the village’s finance director, said Libertyville has been “more than impressed” with the professionalism and attention to detail shown by Canlan as the transition unfolded the past 60 days.

Changes in the look and feel of the facility are pending but are not considered major in the big picture.

New signage is coming. The concession area will be upgraded in terms of menu offerings and technology. The main entry reception area will be reworked.

No one had stopped early Thursday but plenty of people have been calling and emailing, according to Kerr.

“They’re just so happy we’re open and they can come back,” she said.

Canlan’s immediate goals in Libertyville are to introduce itself and let customers know they’re open. A social media campaign is underway and Canlan has been contacting past users from a list made available by the village.

The Lake Barrington and Libertyville indoor facilities are similar in size at 175,000 square feet and 169,000 square feet respectively but have different numbers and types of sports fields.

Canlan has an option to buy the Libertyville Sports Complex for $3.75 million anytime during its lease.

The arrangement was hailed by Libertyville officials when it was announced in April. The sports complex also includes a golf driving range/learning center and mini-golf course. Those elements have been closed, with separate sales for other uses in the works.

“The village remains committed to supporting the indoor recreational needs of its residents while simultaneously supporting Canlan’s efforts to create a long-lasting community enterprise at the sports complex,” Mostardo said.

The indoor portion broke even but the village has been transferring about $1 million a year to cover outstanding debt for the complex, which opened in 2002.

The debt is just under $13 million but is expected to be reduced by refinancing, Canlan rental payments and the eventual sale of the other two pieces.

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We Can Save You Money In 2021 !

* ( 16 Different Amateur Sports ) *

( Teams, Officials, Tournaments, & Facilities ) *

1-800-622-7370

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

www.sadlersports.com/soda

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

www.sportsplexoperators.com

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[[ Available In SODA Store Online !]]

** “STAY SMART ** STAY SAFE” **

  • ** STAY HEALTHY **

WAYS TO ATTACK A WET INFIELD !

101. Tools of the Trade

101a_overviewLike any craftsman, an athletic field groundskeeper relies heavily upon the tools he or she uses to hone their craft of maintaining ballfields. From basic tools like rakes and shovels to the more specialized tools like a level board or slope gauge, groundskeepers use a wide range of hand tools to accomplish their work with a varying attention to detail.

You probably have ideas of what some of these tools are used for. You may or may not be right. A seasoned groundskeeper will likely show you several other ways he or she has used that tool for groundskeeping tasks.

In this introductory module we take a look at some of the tools of the groundskeeper’s trade. Because these tools will be used in later modules, we’ll get you familiar with their names, their application, and their care.

102. Mound & Home Plate Care

103-intro_moundhome-bigSo much of a baseball or softball game involves the one-on-one battle between pitcher and batter. Every pitch of every game involves the mound and home plate area. Consequently, no areas on a ballfield see more wear. From the first pitch to the last out, players look for firm, stable footing in the mound landing area, the batter’s boxes, and catcher’s box areas. If daily maintenance of the mound and home plate areas is followed, your field will likely satisfy most players who use your fields.

In this module you’ll learn proper maintenance of mound & home plate areas.

103. Lip Management

103a_overviewWith 2 or 3 different surfaces, baseball and softball fields are unique. Anywhere the infield skin or warning track come in contact with turfgrass is where “lips” can form. If this happens, it is not only bad for playability, it affects proper drainage. As a result, many problems with an infield can be traced back to poorly managed lips.

In this module you’ll learn how to properly manage a lip.

 

104. Infield Skin Game Day Prep

104a_overviewIt’s all about the infield skin and how well it plays. That’s what it boils down to. The reputation of a groundskeeper at any level — big leagues included — is not determined by how beautiful their grass looks. It’s not determined by how fancy their mowing pattern is. Those are things the average fan watching a game will notice.

The players? They’ll remember an infield that is prone to bad hops or one that drains poorly, and that’s what ballplayers will be talking about amongst themselves.

Properly maintaining an infield skin is an art. The groundskeeper needs to truly know the “personality” of the skin. How will it react to varying weather conditions?

105. Moisture Management

105a_overviewMany groundskeepers fear water. But the reality is water is the lifeblood of a ballfield. We rely on water to help keep the infield soil as one cohesive unit, to provide a resilient playing surface, and to help reduce wear.

That’s right. Water is the key tool in reducing wear. Moisture and clay are the glue holding infield soil together. Without moisture, your field can become hard and unforgiving to the players. By simply adding a water line out to your field, you can apply water to the skin and drastically improve the quality of your playing surface. Moisture Management is an art form…

106. Creating Foul Lines

106a_overviewThere’s something about a well manicured ballfield. It captures the attention of players and fans alike. The geometry of the sport naturally draws the eye in. With each park having unique dimensions and it’s own flavor of the local scenery, there’s variation visually from park to park. But all parks are framed with the straight, crisp, and vibrant white of the foul lines.

In this module, you’ll see what goes into applying these lines.

107. Base Placement & Care

intro_baseA well-maintained ballfield has a smooth surface, both on grass and skinned areas. But in contrast stand the bases, protruding up from the smooth surface. One wrong step, one improper slide, and injury can occur. It is up to the groundskeeper to minimize that risk.

In this module you’ll see how frequent base inspection and base care — along with proper maintenance to the playing surface surrounding the bases — goes a long way toward reducing the risk of player injury. This module is presented in two sections with a couple pop quizzes along the way.

108. Rainfall Rescues

108a_overview“This would be the easiest job in the world… if it weren’t for that tarp.” That’s what Pat Santarone — Baltimore Orioles head groundskeeper from 1969 to 1991 — used to say. Luckily, most of you will never have to wrestle with a 175 foot tarp that can weigh up to a ton! That is definitely a job suited for fields with plenty of man power.

As a groundskeeper, rainfall can create some of your biggest challenges. Coaches, players, and league officials will lobby to get back on the field as soon as possible. Your job is to resurrect the fields after rains to bring them back to being safe and playable before allowing play on them. You’re faced with a balancing act. You need to work with the field and Mother Nature to get fields ready, while understanding people want to play as soon as they can.

In this lesson we’ll show you how to get ballfields back to a playable condition, and some preventative measures that will help lesson the effects of rain.

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We Can Save You Money In 2021 !

* ( 16 Different Amateur Sports ) *

( Teams, Officials, Tournaments, & Facilities ) *

1-800-622-7370

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

www.sadlersports.com/soda

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

www.sportsplexoperators.com

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[[ Available In SODA Store Online !]]

** “STAY SMART ** STAY SAFE” **

  • ** STAY HEALTHY **

Officials celebrate grand opening of The Bridge Sports Complex with ribbon-cutting ceremony !

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — The Bridge Sports Complex in Bridgeport kicked off its Grand Opening Weekend with a private event Friday evening, during which state officials, including Gov. Jim Justice, city officials and facility leadership were featured speakers.

Following a reception and VIP tours of the complex, City Councilman Dustin Vincent opened the evening’s ceremonies.

Justice said the community should be proud of all the phenomenal things happening in North Central West Virginia, including The Bridge Sports Complex.

“This facility is an accomplishment beyond belief,” he said. “I’ve been a coach for forever. I love kids beyond good sense, and what you’re doing right here will stimulate not only the growth and maturing of kids, not only will it give so much opportunity to kids, but it will drive your entire community.

“You will absolutely grow with this and prosper like you can’t imagine.”

Jason Clement, CEO of Sports Facilities Companies, said that in the firm’s 18-year history, he has worked with more than 2,000 communities that have had an idea to build a sports and event recreation center.

“Very few of those communities are able to pull something off. And even less of those, almost none, are able to pull something off as beautiful as this,” Clement said. “What makes Bridgeport different? Special? How did we arrive here today? We get to see a lot of communities, and, ultimately, I came up with two words: Leadership and wisdom.

“A lot of people think wisdom is just about being intelligent and smart, but it’s also really about knowing how to make the right decisions consistently. To arrive at this place today and in this facility, I am grateful for those that were in the room making those decisions — both the hard ones and unpopular. That leadership is what has gotten us here today.”

In a video presentation, Councilman Bob Greer said the sports complex was not only wanted, but needed.

“I think we are meeting some needs that have been in the community for a long time,” he said. “We have people from our community that travel every weekend to go and do something on a turf, play ball or swim. And we thought, ‘Well, why not turn that around and have them come here and fill our hotels and our restaurants on the weekends?’”

Mayor Andy Lang said the sports complex has been in the works for several years, noting the idea was born during a discussion about the need for an indoor walking track other than the mall.“We are very proud to have this facility,” he said. “This is for Bridgeport, for Harrison County and for North Central West Virginia. …This is for us, but it’s also for the next generation and the generation after that.

“We are a multi-use facility with room to grow, and this is really going to up the game for the way of life here in North Central West Virginia.”

Design work on the $60 million project began in 2017, according to officials.

State-of-the-art amenities for a variety of sports and fitness activities are among the facility’s offerings, including:

— A fitness center, elevated walking track, cardio and strength equipment, free weights and group fitness classes.

— A nearly 3,500-square-foot indoor turf field for year-round soccer, lacrosse and flag football, with retractable batting cages with pitching machines for baseball and softball.

— A 10-lane competition swimming pool and a recreation warm-up pool.

— Six hardwood courts suitable for basketball, volleyball and pickleball.

— An indoor “Clip n Climb” area, featuring over 30 indoor climbing walls and an auto-belay system.

— Meeting and event spaces, a cafe and concessions and an outdoor turf field.

   The Bridge is scheduled to hold an open house celebration from 9 a.m. to noon today, during which guests will have the opportunity to participate in competitions and try the Clip n’ Climb area and a free group fitness class.

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We Can Save You Money In 2021 !

* ( 16 Different Amateur Sports ) *

( Teams, Officials, Tournaments, & Facilities ) *

1-800-622-7370

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

www.sadlersports.com/soda

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

www.sportsplexoperators.com

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[[ Available In SODA Store Online !]]

** “STAY SMART ** STAY SAFE” **

  • ** STAY HEALTHY **

The Bridge Sports Complex Announces Grand Opening !

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va,  — North Central West Virginia’s newest indoor sports and recreation center, The Bridge Sports Complex, will officially open its doors with a celebration later this month. The Grand Opening weekend will begin with a private event Friday June 25 and welcome the community to an open house celebration on Saturday, June 26th from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM.

The evening of Friday, June 25th will feature a selection of speakers whose dedication to this six-year long project culminates with the ribbon cutting. Mayor Andy Lang and West Virginia state officials, as well as a representative from the complex operators, Sports Facilities Companies (SFC), will be among the distinguished speakers. Lang expressed his excitement last week. “We have been working toward this day for a long time. The Bridge is the result of collaboration within the entire community, and we are particularly grateful for the support of City Council over the past six years. We look forward to the continued support of the community as we extend our reach throughout all of North Central West Virginia and become a leader in sports tourism.”

The Saturday morning open house, which is open to the public, will take place from 9:00 AM12:00 PM. Guests will have the opportunity to participate in friendly competitions such as a 40-yard dash, Home Run Derby, and more. Attendees are welcome to try the Clip n’ Climb area as well as a free group fitness class. Lunch tickets will be provided to all attendees. Guests who complete all activities will be entered in a raffle to win a free membership.

About The Bridge Sports Complex

The Bridge, located in Bridgeport, WV, managed by Sports Facilities Companies (SFC), is the newest destination for all things sports, recreation, and wellness. With 156,000 square feet of courts, turf, aquatics, fitness, and more, The Bridge is the premium gathering space for sports, recreation, and wellness in North Central West Virginia. To learn more, visit thebridgewv.com.

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We Can Save You Money In 2021 !

* ( 16 Different Amateur Sports ) *

( Teams, Officials, Tournaments, & Facilities ) *

1-800-622-7370

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

www.sadlersports.com/soda

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

www.sportsplexoperators.com

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[[ Available In SODA Store Online !]]

** “STAY SMART ** STAY SAFE” **

  • ** STAY HEALTHY **

Bulldogs Sports Complex Nears Completion !

Image

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The Binghamton, NY  Bulldogs joined our community in 2017 and since then team owner Jimmy Evans has worked to get the organization more involved with the community. The team’s latest project looks to continue that progress in a major way.

For the past 7 months, construction has been underway on the Bulldogs Sports Complex located at 1025 Robinson Hill Road in Johnson City. The facility will serve as the home court for the Binghamton Bulldogs. Out of the American Basketball Association’s 185 teams, this will make the Bulldogs the only one in the league with their own dedicated facility. Evans says this has been a dream of theirs since the Bulldogs started playing.

“We’ve been renting space in many different local schools and colleges and a lot of the venues can’t hold the fans that we get,” says Evans. “We really needed our own space to accommodate our growing fan base.”

The complex’s uses don’t stop there however. It will feature an NBA size court for the Bulldogs to play on, along with 2 high school size courts. These courts will be used for a variety of youth basketball programs from summer camps to clinics and training sessions. Evans says in the fall they will be launching 7 or 8 AAU teams and that they will be hosting tournaments often. He says it will be basketball around the clock.

“It really seemed like just the perfect option for me and what I enjoy doing,” says Evans. “I love giving back to the community, I love creating opportunities for people through sports. I think sports are a great way to channel energy as a kid and learn some values and responsibilities. And I think this complex will offer a lot of people that opportunity.”

Along with all the youth basketball Evans says they will be offering volleyball programs as well.

Evans says they already have basketball tournaments in the works for August and the Holiday season. The Bulldogs Sports Complex will be holding its first summer camp at the end of June, with the grand opening to the public planned for the end of July.

For more information you can visit their website, or their Facebook page.

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We Can Save You Money In 2021 !

* ( 16 Different Amateur Sports ) *

( Teams, Officials, Tournaments, & Facilities ) *

1-800-622-7370

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

www.sadlersports.com/soda

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

www.sportsplexoperators.com

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[[ Available In SODA Store Online !]]

** “STAY SMART ** STAY SAFE” **

  • ** STAY HEALTHY **

 

Construction begins on $36M sports complex in Kansas City’s Northland !

June 18, 2021

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Construction is beginning on a $36 million multi-sport facility north of the river. The complex, near Missouri Highway 152 and Platte Purchase Drive, will have 10 synthetic turf fields to be used for soccer, football, baseball, softball and lacrosse.

It will be operated by Sporting Fields Athletics, a division of Sporting KC.

All 10 fields will be lighted with parking, trail connections, an inclusive playground for kids who face challenges, and a field house with restrooms and concessions.

All of the speakers at the groundbreaking Friday talked about how difficult it was to get this project done, but said in the end families won’t have to face long drives to Johnson County, Kansas or elsewhere just to watch their children play sports.

“It’s just going to be a catalyst for growth, for economic development up here, because the things that will come with these soccer fields are going to be tremendous,” said Councilwoman Teresa Loar, who led the campaign for the project. “We will have hotels. We’ll have restaurants, we will have retail. We will have a lot more entertainment. That’s what these fields will bring into Kansas City,”

The 76-acre sports complex already is seeing a $375 million dollar multi-use development around it that will include housing, retail and office space.

The sports complex is only a 10 minute drive from KCI Airport and boosters promise that it will draw tournaments and visitors from across the nation to play in Kansas City.

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We Can Save You Money In 2021 !

* ( 16 Different Amateur Sports ) *

( Teams, Officials, Tournaments, & Facilities ) *

1-800-622-7370

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

www.sadlersports.com/soda

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

www.sportsplexoperators.com

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Proudly Serving The USA/Canada

Since 1981”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[[ Available In SODA Store Online !]]

** “STAY SMART ** STAY SAFE” **

  • ** STAY HEALTHY **

 

 

The BEST whisker anchor plug you will find !

Black Foam Whisker Base Plug

The BEST whisker anchor plug you will find. Strong & durable, the snug fit keeps infield debris out of your base anchors. Buy them individually or in a Beacon Bucket with either 15 or 30 base plugs, a handle, lid, and featuring bilingual tips for base maintenance. The Black Foam Whisker Plug fits 1.5″ anchors (whisker colors vary).

Richland County looking to build a sports complex to attract huge travel tournaments !

IMG_9937.jpg

Richland County Recreation Commission director Lakita Watson welcomes participants in the Atlanta Braves Country Battles travel baseball tournament at Kelly Mill Sports Complex in Elgin in April. The commission and Richland County Council are considering the prospect of a travel sports complex in the county that can host large tournaments and attract visitors from throughout the country. Provided/Richland County Recreation Commission.

Richland County Recreation Commission director Lakita Watson talks about the agency’s plan for a large sports complex during a meeting at Doko Meadows Park in Blythewood on June 3.

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COLUMBIA, GA. — More than 90 youth baseball teams poured into northeast Columbia in April to participate in a travel tournament affiliated with Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves.

The visitors spent about $275,000 while here competing at Kelly Mill Sports Complex in Elgin. Richland County Council chairman Paul Livingston attended and offered remarks to the participants; the event was by all accounts successful and well received.

“That’s a four-field complex,” said Scott Powers, director of Experience Columbia SC Sports, which markets the area’s sports offerings to visitors. “Imagine what we could do with an eight-, 10-, 12-field complex.”

Richland County officials have imagined what such a space would mean for the area and are beginning to explore where such a layout would be built and most importantly, how it would be funded. The county has received separate requests from private groups via Livingston for millions of dollars in county hospitality tax money raised from restaurant meals and grocery purchases to help build similar features.

The public Richland County Recreation Commission, seeking a new direction with agency head Lakita Watson, has determined such an offering is needed and is moving forward with seeking public input and partners to get it done.

A Charlotte-based consultant hired by the commission has already confirmed that such a complex would be successful, Watson said. Next steps will be to talk with county officials about potential locations, ways to pay for the work and possible private partners.

County decision-makers have already received requests from a private organization for $4 million in public money for a volleyball complex and another from the nonprofit S.C. Kings Foundation for $9.5 million in tax dollars to help build a sports complex in Irmo.

County Council, instead of considering the individual requests, decided to consider the idea of a travel sports complex more generally, beginning with a committee.

Livingston said some on council has always felt like the county’s hospitality tax funds could best be used toward a few grand projects instead of dozens of smaller grants to organizations whether the effect is perceived to be less felt.

The county spent millions to renovate Columbia’s Township Auditorium this way. And while the improvements helped draw big-name acts such as John Legend and Avett Brothers to the concert venue, the county unsuccessfully attempted to use hospitality funds for a destination farmers market off of Shop Road and a water park on county property on Farrow Road.

He said he doesn’t know the direction the discussion will take with council on a sports complex “but it at least warrants a discussion.”

“I support getting back into that,” Livingston said. “I support trying to get a really nice destination site for our community.”

Watson envisions a complex with indoor and outdoor facilities that can accommodate numerous tournament competitions at the same time. The site should be in a visible area with the infrastructure in place to easily get people in and out, and preferably on land the county already owns to avoid the additional cost.

Asked about the prospect of the sports layout setting off a fight for which council member can secure the complex for their district, Watson said a list of objective criteria should help determine the ultimate location and avoid jurisdictional spats.

The necessary space is much larger in scale than a typical recreational park tailored to a specific community, Powers said. A baseline project could easily cost $25 million to $30 million, he said.

The payoff could come in the form of visitors who come from all over the country to compete in tournaments, spending money in hotels and restaurants and driving demand for new hotels around the facility. Travel sports was a $45 billion industry in 2019, Powers said.

Columbia, once fairly competitive with other regional destinations, has fallen behind in recent years as travel sports have boomed, Powers said.

The capital city could learn from similar cities like Rock Hill that don’t have the beach or mountains to attract visitors but have made sports tournaments the draw. The city of Rock Hill, south of Charlotte in York County, has Cherry Park and Manchester Meadows soccer complex — amenities that bring in millions in economic impact.

The Braves tournament at Kelly Mill had to spill over to two fields overseen by the Irmo-Chapin Recreation Commission. A 60-team travel basketball tournament in March brought in $400,000 in outside spending but occupied five Richland County Recreation Commission gymnasiums throughout the area.

“It’s all come back to whose got the money? Where is the money going to come from?” Powers said. “I guess that’s the biggest nut we have never been able to crack, is how are we going to fund that?”

And while he has professed the area’s need for such a sports complex for more than 15 years, Powers said he’s not suggesting elected officials open the public’s wallet and that the best option will likely include significant support from the private side.

The county recreation commission’s ability to borrow money for big projects has been curtailed for the next 10 years because of previous financial choices that tied up the agency’s debt.

The commission is unique in that its board is appointed by the state but receives its operational funding and limited money for park improvements from the county, Watson explained during a public meeting in Blythewood on June 3. Money will also be needed to eventually improve or replace aging county pools like Trenholm Park — a recent survey showed county residents would like an indoor pool, and such a facility is part of Watson’s long-range plan.

That’s all to say the agency can’t bear the cost of a state-of-the-art sports complex on its own.

“But are there other ways? Yes sir,” Watson said. “We just need to sit down and figure out what they look like.”

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