$44M youth sports complex might go in at Upper Valley Mall site

A study released by the Chamber of Greater Springfield on Thursday proposes building a $44 million youth sports complex at the site currently occupied by the Upper Valley Mall.

The project would likely take years to develop if it moves forward, said Michael McDorman, president and CEO of the chamber. But if successful, he said it would lead to new hotels, restaurants and retail and would make Clark County a top destination for youth and amateur sports tournaments.

“It could be a game-changer for our area,” McDorman said.

READ MORE: Bechtle Avenue booms as Upper Valley struggles

Most of the project would be publicly funded and it could be as much as a decade before the site would be operational, McDorman said. It’s not yet clear how funding would work and the project would need the public’s support before moving forward.

Although there have been initial discussions with the mall’s ownership to notify them about the proposal, other sites would also be considered.

“This just starts the dialogue on, ‘Where do we go?” McDorman said.

Officials from the Upper Valley Mall declined to comment Thursday afternoon.

DETAILS: Clark County land bank to buy old Macy’s at Upper Valley Mall

The study envisions developing about 83 acres of property for the complex. It would include a 95,000-square-foot indoor facility with six basketball courts and 12 volleyball courts, along with space for an entertainment center and concessions.

Another 38 acres outside would include eight synthetic turf baseball fields, eight multipurpose fields, and support and maintenance buildings. It would also include about 43 acres with close to 1,700 parking spaces.

RELATED: Retailer files for bankruptcy, Upper Valley Mall store’s future unclear

The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitor’s Bureau formed a sports tourism committee last year to look for options to draw more sports tournaments to Clark County. The Clark County Convention Facilities Authority approved a roughly $50,000 grant to cover the study, which was conducted by Florida-based Sports Facilities Advisory.

Local officials had also studied options to draw more conventions and meetings to downtown Springfield, said Chris Schutte, vice-president of destination marketing for the chamber and visitor’s bureau. But that industry is more competitive, he said, and sports tourism offered a better opportunity to lure visitors from across the region.

MORE BUSINESS NEWS: Hotels see bump as tourism grows in Clark County

He argued amateur and youth sports was one of the few industries that thrived even when the national economy soured several years ago.

“As we kept looking at it, we thought we would be crazy not to go after this,” Schutte said.

The project would require an annual $2 million subsidy to operate, according to the report.

As proposed, the complex would be larger than needed to serve the immediate area, said Daniel Morton, project manager for SFA. It could serve visitors within about 240 miles, and Morton said the report showed the venue is expected to generate about $2 in direct spending from visitors for every $1 spent to build and operate the facility.

The report estimates the complex would generate about $15 million in direct spending the first year and $20 million after five years.

The complex would also lead to a spike in sales tax dollars, McDorman said, and other revenue for the community as visitors spend nights in hotels, shop at local businesses and eat at restaurants throughout the area.

“There is a huge return on investment that offsets that subsidy,” McDorman said.

The current mall location became the preferred site for the proposed complex because it’s easily accessible for visitors, has infrastructure in place and is close to several businesses on both Upper Valley Pike and nearby Bechtle Avenue, Schutte said.

The Clark County land bank, a nonprofit set up by the county, has purchased property previously owned by Macy’s at the mall. The rest of the mall property is privately owned and Sears also owns its property at the site.

If the project moves forward, Schutte said more hotels would have to be developed in the area to accommodate out-of-town visitors. The report projects the activities hosted by the new sports complex would create more than 42,000 new hotel room visits by the fifth year and would continue to do so annually afterward.

“I envision it reinvigorating the entire corridor all the way to U.S. 68,” Schutte said.

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