Youth sports targeted to draw more visitors to Springfield

The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau wants to establish a youth sports complex and target amateur athletics to increase tourism.

That could include a swimming pool and the other amenities that go around that,” said Daren Cotter, the group’s new chairman.

“Fitness facilities, athletic fields, restaurants, retail, hotel. All that stuff has to be considered as a package when you look at bringing in sports tourism,” said Cotter, chief financial officer at the Turner Foundation and a Moorefield Twp. trustee.

Community sports and recreation is upwards of a $10 billion industry and youth sports tourism is a $9 billion dollar industry, said Dev Pathik, CEO and founder of the Sports Facilities Advisory. The Florida-based firm does feasibility and planning services and also has a company that manages sports venues.

Youth sports tourism has grown 20 percent nationwide in the past three years and “is the only segment of the entire travel industry to never decline in a single quarter throughout the recession,” Pathik said.

When his firm has developed sports complexes, he said new hotels were planned as soon as the venues were approved. But he said the developments have to be properly conceived for small communities to benefit.

“You want to plan the venue to keep people there or to keep them locally, including their hotel stays. But you also have to have recreation amenities for those guests or else they’re going to go where the recreation is when their tournament is over,” Pathik said.

The CVB recently approved plans for a feasibility study to determine the existing facilities, new amenities needed and the local investment required to tap further into the sports tourism market.

“It will probably take additional assets quite honestly if we’re really going to maximize what we can do here. That could be additional exhibit space, additional hotel, motel space. Additional sports facilities. We’re really at the beginning of looking at that,” Cotter said.

The visitors bureau also wants to add convention and meeting space, Cotter said, and take the lead in developing downtown Springfield. It’s looking at areas by the Courtyard by Marriott and Clark State Community College Performing Arts Center to see what can be done to bring more convention business to Springfield.

“Both of those (sports tourism and conventions) are very hot topics,” Cotter said.

The community also will soon have a new brewery and artists lofts downtown, he said, and the board wants to improve the amenities around them to make the area more attractive.

Cotter replaced Dean Blair, who is now the executive director of the Clark County Fairgrounds. Blair is an ex officio member of the visitors bureau board in a non-voting capacity.

“I’m really excited about it. It’s a great time for Springfield,” Cotter said. “We have a lot of initiatives and things coming together right now. The CVB can make a real big impact on how the community is viewed in the region as far as how we market all of the assets that we have here for travel and tourism.”

Cotter said has been a member of the organization’s board for about four years.

Chris Schutte, marketing director for chamber and the director of the convention and visitors bureau, said Cotter was a unanimous pick to lead the board.

Schutte said Cotter has the leadership style and vision to help the group reach its goals.

“He has that view that he’s always trying to move things forward,” Schutte said.

The visitors bureau wants to be the marketing agent for Greater Springfield, Schutte said, and become more active in promoting events in the city and developing more tourism. That includes the feasibility study on bringing a potential amateur and youth sports facility to the county.

“We want to be part of development projects for the community. We want to do things that are going to drive more numbers into the community. He’s a great person for that because he really has the vision for that type of thing,” Schutte said.

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