With six children in youth basketball, Keith and Vicki Short have been road warriors for more than six years.
They travel from their Hesston home to gyms in Wichita and to Mid America Youth Basketball tournaments around the region 10 months out of the year, and they miss it when the season is over.
“As far as having a family and kids involved, the hardest part is finding gym time for practice,” Vicki Short said.
Whether a new fieldhouse proposed for northeast Wichita by Kansas City-based developer GoodSports would be the answer is hard to tell yet, she said.
But, she said, “It might be nice if you could find a gym to use on a regular basis.”
GoodSports proposes a 53,000-square-foot multi-sport fieldhouse at K-96 and Greenwich to attract national youth sports events. The fieldhouse would be part of a 370-acre tourism and shopping destination district that includes the Cabela’s store under construction. Also planned is at least one hotel to house the sports competitors and their families. The district also includes about 60 acres at the southeast corner of 21st Street and Greenwich Road.
Local sports organizations aren’t sure what to make of the proposal, which seeks a $50 million sales tax and revenue (STAR) bond district and will have a public hearing before the Wichita City Council on Tuesday. The hearing comes during the council meeting, which starts at 9:30 a.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 455 N. Main.
Bob Hanson, head of the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission, said the new fieldhouse is needed to help youth sports grow in an area that lacks facilities capable of drawing national events.
“In my mind, it would be very good for the community,” Hanson said.
A preliminary market study by GoodSports claims that, when fully developed, the district would draw about 3.3 million visitors per year. People living within a 100-mile radius would account for about two-thirds of the visitors. Out-of-state residents would provide about 30 percent of total visitors, about 1 million per year.
GoodSports proposes using a STAR bond district as its chief financing mechanism. STAR bond law allows the state’s 6.3 percent sales tax on purchases to be captured for certain development costs in a district.
For the project to proceed, the City Council and the Kansas Department of Commerce would have to establish a STAR bond district for the intersection at some point after the public hearing Tuesday. Then developers would have to submit a project plan demonstrating at least a $50 million capital investment, at least $50 million in projected gross sales and no significant negative impact on existing businesses in the project marketing area. The council and Commerce Department would have to also approve that.
The core of the fieldhouse would be six basketball courts that could be used for national tournaments, such as Amateur Athletic Union tournaments. The building also could be used for volleyball, wrestling and a host of other indoor activities such as archery, power lifting, boxing, cheerleading, fencing and martial arts.
GoodSports plans to build 25 such facilities around the country and overseas over the next seven to 10 years, said Michael Vidmar, vice president of capital investments for GoodSports, the development group responsible for the Village West project around the Kansas Speedway in Wyandotte County.
Wichita was selected for the first one because of its central location and availability to other regional sports cities such as Oklahoma City, Kansas City and St. Louis. The fieldhouse concept fits with Midwest basketball history, he said.
Existing sports groups in Wichita aren’t sure what impact a new facility would have on them. The Greater Wichita YMCA has eight full-service sites and the Garvey Sports Center near Harry and Oliver, and it plans to double the size of the Farha Sports Center on South Meridian, a 55,000-square-foot facility with eight courts for basketball and volleyball. Shelly Conrady, communications director for the YMCA, declined to comment on the GoodSports proposal, saying the Y doesn’t yet have enough information about it.
Mid America Youth Basketball, in its 19th year, already draws tournaments of 600 to 800 teams to the area. Those tournaments have had an economic impact in the “tens of millions of dollars,” said MAYB president Greg Raleigh. He isn’t sure how GoodSports’ fieldhouse would affect his organization.
MAYB, based in Newton, uses suburban high school gyms and the Farha Sports Center for its games and tournaments. National tournaments require about 90 gyms, Raleigh said. So the addition of new courts could be a boon.
“If we can use it, I certainly don’t think it would hurt to have more gyms in Wichita,” Raleigh said. “If they want to come in and become our competition, I like to think we’ll compete pretty well against them. If they’re running tournaments against ours, it’ll hurt us a little bit.”
Vidmar said GoodSports would cooperate with local sports organizations.
“It’s not our intention to take them over,” he said. “Wichita and Kansas in general have a great appetite for sports. We’ll be reaching out to them to offer our facilities as another resource.”
Sports facilities need local participation to succeed because national tournaments like the Amateur Athletic Union will come to a town for only a couple of years, then move on, said Don Schumacher, executive director of the National Association of Sports Commissions.
He urged caution when dealing with a proposed public-private sports venue. Cities need to do market analyses to see if the community will support the 12-month operation of such a building, and follow up with a financial study, he said.
“Communities won’t invest unless there’s a reasonable level of success, and an agreement that the facility is built for visitors,” Schumacher said.
“The venue operator is not concerned first and foremost with visitor spending. They’re concerned first and foremost with making a profit.”
Nationally, the market for youth sports is large, he said. The amateur sports event industry in the U.S., not counting regular-season college sports events, has grown to about $7 billion annually in direct visitor spending, Schumacher said.
“Every year the total number of kids participating in team sports seems to contract a bit. But when you peel back the onion, you find the kids that are competing are competing all year, so the total number of games players play has gone up, and the total number of events has gone up,” he said.
The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, which closely tracks youth sports trends, found in its 2011 participation study that three of every four teenagers in the U.S. play at least one team sport. Growth in youth sports is being fueled by 13- and 14-year olds, the study found. Participation increased 22 percent among 13-year-olds from 2009 to 2010, and 14 percent among 14-year-olds. Participation in youth basketball rose 9.6 percent.
There are no clear participation numbers for Kansas or this region. But last year, 14 youth sports events in Wichita had a $29 million economic impact on the community, Hanson said. That figure includes a multiplier effect for each dollar turning over in the community. It doesn’t include MAYB events.
Leading the way was the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics at Cessna Stadium in July, which brought 7,000 competitors, plus their families and coaches, to the community for six days. NCAA women’s tournament games and the state high school wrestling tournament also were included in that tally.
The economic impact number doesn’t reflect a growth in youth sports in the community. Youth sports aren’t growing here because the city doesn’t have the facilities to help them grow by hosting national tournaments, Hanson said. It is missing out, for example, on national volleyball and wrestling tournaments, he said.
Desperate for gyms
Cori Meyer-Broddle, club director of Shockwave Volleyball, which fields teams for players ages 10 to 18, said her sport is growing in the community, and the 30 or so volleyball clubs in town are desperate for gyms.
“Finding gyms in Wichita for club volleyball is one of the toughest things to do,” she said.
Her club uses facilities at Wichita State University. The Farha Sports Center is usually booked, and schools and churches generally require that teams using their gyms include participants from those schools and churches.
Meyer-Broddle said her club has traveled to regional tournaments in Denver, Dallas, Austin and elsewhere. Six years ago, when Kansas City got a regional, she was excited that her players wouldn’t have to travel as far.
“It would be great if Wichita could get one,” she said.