Wittenberg awarded $375K tourism grant for athletics complex

The Clark County Convention Facilities Authority has awarded Wittenberg University a $375,000 grant to support the school’s $40 million athletic complex upgrades.

The authority’s mission is to support local facilities that contribute to the county’s tourism economy. When leaders pitched the project to the CFA board in August, Wittenberg said the enhancements will increase student recruitment and retention as well as allow the university to host more large athletic events and tournaments.

The university plans to break ground on the project in March 2017.

Applications hit a record this year, the university said, with more than 6,700 received as of March 8, compared to about 6,200 last year.

“It’s money well spent,” said Clark County Commissioner John Detrick, a graduate of Wittenberg University class of 1964.

Wittenberg ranks second in terms of venues that bring people for overnight stays in Clark County, he said, behind the fairgrounds.

“We see this as an opportunity to help grow and be an additional economic driver for tourism in Clark County,” said Wendy Kobler, Wittenberg’s vice president for advancement.

The university asked the facilities authority for a $750,000 grant — $250,000 annually for the next three years. But the board expressed concern that that amount was nearly their entire budget for projects for a year.

The CFA awarded $396,000 in grants to local tourism projects in 2014. The money comes from bed taxes at Clark County hotels.

The upgraded athletic facilities will allow Wittenberg to attract regional and national tournaments for Amateur Athletic Union and club sports, plus NCAC and NCAA championship events, Kobler said.

Wittenberg has already raised about $25 million in private donations and tax credits toward the renovation and building project.

It was originally projected to cost about $30 million, but is now expected come in at about $40.5 million, Kobler said.

That’s due to increases in construction costs since the initial plan was laid out and inclusion of a couple years worth of maintenance and upkeep costs while the university establishes a permanent $2 million endowment to run the facilities.

In addition to renovation of the 1929 field house and the 1982 Health, Physical Education and Recreation Center, the university’s plan includes the construction of a new 125,000-square-foot indoor athletic facility attached to the north end of the HPER Center.

The restored and expanded facility is slated to include:

  • An indoor 100-yard artificial turf surface to accommodate football, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, baseball and softball.
  • A six-lane, 300-meter indoor track.
  • A new 7,000-square foot weight room.
  • A sport performance, strength training and wellness center.
  • Technology-enabled classroom space.
  • Updated locker rooms.
  • Multi-purpose recreational rooms for group fitness classes and special-event space.
  • Spacious alumni/recruiting lounge.
  • Modernized court surfaces for tennis, volleyball and basketball.

Wittenberg has about 1,850 students and 475 employees. It currently brings about 4,100 overnight stays to Springfield each year with an estimated economic impact of $70 million annually.

“With this financial support, we are one step closer to embarking on the next step of this exciting capital initiative,” Kobler said. “Both the new facility and academic programs will help with recruitment of new students and retention of existing students in an overly competitive marketplace that faces fewer graduating high school seniors and continued price pressures.”

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