Listen, Create, Construct!
By Brandon Lange
As many people can attest, building a successful sports and events complex has its challenges. Among the toughest decisions are where the money will come from, which amenities should be included, and how to ensure the complex will be successful. All of these questions can be answered with a little research.
Oftentimes, when building a complex that costs millions of dollars, the decision even to move forward can be overwhelming. The city of Kennewick in Washington was in dire need of a multi-use complex for years, and after extensive research, the city decided to move forward with the Southridge Sports and Events Complex—an indoor and outdoor sports and events complex that would cost about $9.98 million. While the facility was a huge undertaking, it has been tremendously successful since opening in March 2012.
Listen To Your Demographics
City officials spent years collecting data and talking to potential user groups with a vested interest in the complex. The groups were able to see the proposed site and give their opinions about the 52-acre property. It was felt that the people who would be using the complex should rightfully have the most say in the amenities offered; after all, they were the ones who would provide the most revenue. The city originally had planned to build six baseball/softball fields, but after the public input, it made more sense to build four baseball/softball fields, two soccer fields, and an indoor sports pavilion. Other features included an aquatic area, gazebo, and playground. The community play area was to be the only “non-fee” amenity of the complex.
Create A Year-Long Revenue Stream
Unlike most athletic complexes, the Southridge Sports and Events Complex includes both indoor and outdoor facilities. Featured are two smaller air-conditioned and heated buildings, a large maintenance shop, and a 30,000-square-foot, climate-controlled indoor sports pavilion. Because of these venues, revenue is generated throughout the year. People tend to head outdoors as the weather warms up and head indoors during the fall and winter months. In the first year, the complex welcomed an estimated 112,000 visitors; this number would not have been achieved without utilizing both indoor and outdoor facilities.
In addition, the parks and recreation staff offices are located inside the pavilion, giving staff members the ability to monitor facilities more closely, and thus better serving the community. Since the complex is open for longer hours to accommodate residents’ needs, more registrations have been received than ever before.
Multi-Use, Multi-Use, Multi-Use
The complex was built so that almost every type of event and sporting activity could be held. The outdoor baseball and softball field fences are 325 feet and 400 feet respectively. With distances longer than those of some major-league baseball stadiums, full-size soccer, lacrosse, and football fields can be included in the outfield.
The indoor pavilion also can accommodate trade shows, reunions, weddings, banquets, fundraisers, and other special events. Photo By Dorian’s Photography
Now, soccer, lacrosse, and football can be accommodated on six fields. The indoor pavilion also can accommodate trade shows, reunions, weddings, banquets, fundraisers, and other special events. Having these events brings more people to the facility that otherwise would normally have little interest in visiting. This approach certainly justifies building a multi-million-dollar complex because it appeals to a larger demographic.
Look At Creative Ways To Finance The Complex
Donations, sponsorships, grants or bonds are all viable options to help build an ideal complex. In 2009, Kennewick was awarded $500,000 annually in the form of a sales-tax credit from the state through its local revitalization financing (LRF) tax-increment financing program. To receive the award, the city had to demonstrate that the state had received at least $500,000 in incremental (new) property and sales-tax revenue as a result of activity within the Southridge Local Revitalization Area during the calendar year 2010. The city met those requirements and began receiving the state’s award in July 2011. To date, Kennewick’s Southridge LRF project is the only one in the state’s LRF program that has successfully met this requirement. The $500,000 state award, along with the local sales- and property-tax increments the city and its LRF partners (KGH, Port of Kennewick, Benton County) receive, are required to be used for the annual debt service on approximately $13.665 million in bonds that were issued in 2010. The majority of those bonds were used to finance the completion of the sports complex, with the remainder used to fund critical roadway infrastructure to prepare the area for future development. The city has also generated thousands of dollars in sponsorships, which allow businesses to receive exposure from people visiting the complex and for the city to use those sponsorship dollars for a number of different projects, upgrades, and other opportunities.
After the complex was completed, the question became, “How do we get people to rent and use the facility?” Marketing has become very complicated with hundreds of avenues for promoting a sports and events complex. The city did not have a large local marketing budget, so it became creative in getting the word out. Sponsorship trades with local media outlets, a recreation brochure, an email database, city and complex websites, and a large grand opening all helped to create “buzz.” Working with the local visitor and convention bureau to provide information about shopping, restaurants, hotels, and other area attractions helped put the complex on the map as well. Kennewick also used hotel/motel tax dollars to market, which allowed for greater awareness on a regional and national scale and led to more events and tournaments—ultimately more tourism dollars for the local economy.
Every detail plays a vital role in creating a successful sports and events complex. Be prepared for anything, listen to the public, and more times than not, children and adults will flock to your complex. Partnerships are vital for any successful project. By creating outreach programs, talking with community leaders, and working with potential user groups, you will be on the way to a community facility that everyone will enjoy.
Brandon Lange is the Sponsorship and Sports Marketing Coordinator for the city of Kennewick in Washington. Reach him at Brandon.firstname.lastname@example.org .