Sports dollars add up for Fort Wayne
By Linda Lipp | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
More than 70 tournaments and events; an estimated 120,000 visitors; an excess of $40 million in direct spending - that’s what youth sports are expected to bring to Fort Wayne this year alone.
“One of the major reasons people visit Fort Wayne is so their children can compete in sports,” said Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne, which developed the aforementioned economic impact estimates.
Fort Wayne has a number of private and public venues used for youth sports: Spiece Fieldhouse, Canlan Ice Arena and the adjacent SportOne Parkview Fieldhouse, Ash Baseball Center, the IPFW and Kreager Park soccer complexes, the Helen P. Brown Natatorium adjacent to South Side High School, the new Turnstone complex and the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
“We’ve got some of the best facilities for youth sports and competition in the Midwest,” O’Connell boasted. “Also to be noted, many facilities are privately owned. They’re ongoing business concerns, generating business by doing the business of sports. And that adds to that sports tourism business.”
Competitions may also be spread out across a dozen school gyms or fields around town when they come in for meets or tournaments. But one thing that is missing is a state-of-the-art artificial turf field or complex of fields that could be adapted for use for soccer, track, lacrosse, football and marching band competitions.
The board of Northwest Allen County Schools is looking at something that might at least begin to answer that need.
The current field facilities on the campus of Carroll High School date back to when the school was built in 1968. The plumbing and bathrooms haven’t worked for a decade, and the field can’t accommodate the needs of a growing student body, which is nearly 2,300 this year and is expected to hit or exceed 2,400 next year, said Chris Himsel, NACS superintendent.
The board could opt to update the current facility, although that could pose scheduling problems with events already on the books. Or, it could opt to build a new facility a little further south and west, but still on school property.
Relocating the field could also help with traffic flow and provide room for growth. And a field that meets standards for athletic and band competitions could allow NACS to host more events - and bring in more revenue to offset construction and operating costs.
“Obviously anything we can do that helps us from a fundraising perspective, we’d have to think about that,” Himsel said. “If it meets the criteria for ISSMA (Indiana State School Music Association) events, then that gives us the option to host band competitions. If we can host sectional or regional track, that brings in potential revenue for us. If brings in additional community events…that would provide opportunities for us that don’t currently exist.”
Hosting is a revenue stream to consider.
“I think Carroll is on the right track,” O’Connell agreed.
Artificial surfaces have improved a lot over the years and are more forgiving when it comes to athletic injuries. They are not affected as much by cold and rain, the surfaces last longer and require less maintenance.
“And nowadays, you don’t have to be so singular-sport with these artificial turf fields. Change the lines and you can use it for Little League. Make it bigger and it becomes a soccer field,” O’Connell said.
What NACS does not plan to do is build some elaborate, over-the-top stadium, Himsel said. It would be an aluminum structure, with areas for concessions and lockers and enough in the way of bleacher seating to accommodate the entire student body.
The board is still looking at its options, but will probably begin making some decisions about what to build and how to finance it soon, Himsel said.