The youth sports stadium game
If you thought the competition to build massive sports stadiums was just for cities that were, well, cities, then you are correct. As long as you think of those stadiums only for professional teams. Smaller towns and suburbs are drooling to replicate the success of Blaine, Minn.’s National Sports Center, or merely trying to attract big tournaments that fill hotel rooms and restaurants with rude kids running wild (at least that’s what I’ve seen and heard in the hotels I’ve stayed in that were hosting kids playing youth tournaments).
For example, the State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill., reports in today’s edition that a $60 million youth sports facility is under consideration. It would have, as the paper notes, “a 3,000-seat baseball stadium, soccer fields and a football/track facility.” That would make it the biggest construction project in Springfield since the monorail.
If $60 million in a city of about 117,000 sounds like a lot, how does $60 million in a suburb of about 24,000 grab you?
That’s the pricetag Westfield, Ind., is putting on its proposed complex, which would be located a 5K run from where I’m sitting now (my parents’ house in Carmel, another north Indianapolis suburb.) The complex would consist of a 4,000-seat multipurpose outdoor stadium (which would also be used to attract an independent minor-league pro baseball team), indoor sports facilities, and baseball, soccer, softball and lacrosse fields. It would be part of a $1.5 billion development with retail, housing, hotels and a golf course already there, money to be raised in a public-private partnership.
The youth sports stadium game is like the big-time stadium game in that burgs known for little or nothing (as Indianapolis was when it beefed up its Olympic sports facilities and filched the Colts in the 1980s) are using the facilities to make some sort of a name for itself. For example, Westfield, known nowhere outside of Indianapolis and barely known within it, wants to be known as “the Family Sports Capital of America.”
As Westfield Mayor Andy Cook (no relation to your humble blogger) told Indianapolis TV station WTHR: “To our knowledge, there are two there facilities similar to this. One is in suburban Minneapolis. The other is in Disney World.”
See, there’s Blaine lust again. As for Disney World, apparently Cook is hopeful that someday a Super Bowl winner will yell, “I’m goin’ to Westfield!”
Come in to Westfield, the Happiest Place on Earth.
I must admit, I admire Westfield’s gigantic civic nards in proposing this project, especially in this economy, even though Westfield is a fast-growing burg.
There are plenty of stories out there bragging about how much money youth sports is bringing to various small towns. If you need an exact number, you can always call someone like Patrick Rishe, an economic professor at Webster University in St. Louis, who is making a side business assessing an economic impact number just like people used to do for pro sports stadium projects.
Of course, a lot of those pro sports numbers are in serious dispute, like this report in the Philadelphia Inquirer (via The Sports Economist) states:
In a just-released article in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, my colleagues and I [Rick Eckstein, a Villanova sociology professor] studied media coverage of 23 publicly financed stadium initiatives in 16 different cities, including Philadelphia. We found that the mainstream media in most of these cities is noticeably biased toward supporting publicly financed stadiums, which has a significant impact on the initiatives’ success.
This bias usually takes the form of uncritically parroting stadium proponents’ economic and social promises, quoting stadium supporters far more frequently than stadium opponents, overlooking the numerous objective academic studies on the topic, and failing to independently examine the multitude of failed stadium-centered promises throughout the country, especially those in oft-cited “success cities” such as Denver and Cleveland.
The argument for youth sports stadiums over pro sports stadiums is that they’re cheaper to build, and that they attract almost all out-of-towners rather than taking money from one local entertainment venue to another. The argument against is that given the relative size of the towns, the money being spent is the equivalent of what a big city pays for a big stadium. And you can’t assume everyone will stay in your town’s hotels, or spend as much money as you think they will spend. Plus, it seems slightly creepy to base a major part of your city’s economy on kids playing games.
However, it’s doubtful this (fools?) gold rush is ending anytime soon. To symbolize where we’re going, Vero Beach, Fla., is looking at converting Dodgertown, the old Los Angeles Dodgers spring training site, into a youth sports complex.