A "Grand" Entrance
By Michelle Krcmery and Jordan Mcbride
In its quest to serve the needs of the local athletes and attract a hospitality industry, the city of Westfield, Ind., is bringing the community and amateur-sports tourism together at Grand Park.
With more than 650,000 visits in the spring and summer of 2014, Grand Park has already surpassed its first-year projections. However, it has not been without its challenges. Like many urban park systems, the park must thrive in conditions of increased fiscal constraint and growing visitor expectations while navigating the sheer magnitude of land management, demand for revenue, cost savings, and innovation.
Investing In Sports
The initial concept for the park began as a plan to create sustainable playing fields for local youth athletes. While researching potential locations, city leaders learned that sports tourism amounts to $7 billion in annual revenue. The Westfield Sports Commission was formed and worked closely with Hamilton County Tourism to develop a plan to build a facility that would serve the needs of local athletes, attract tournaments from across the country, and make hospitality the city’s industry.
A comprehensive study was completed, which determined a recommended park size as well as which facilities would yield the most benefit, based on the cost of investing in the physical facilities and their ability to attract visitors/spectators.
The city financed the initial development of the park with a $45-million bond. The sports campus spans 400 acres, featuring:
- 31 multi-purpose fields for soccer, rugby, football, and field hockey (24 grass; seven synthetic)
- 26 baseball/softball diamonds (18 grass; eight synthetic)
- Seven concession stands
- Nine parking lots (4,500+ parking spaces).
In addition to sports amenities, the park offers beautiful scenery with its nine lakes and 8 acres of trees carefully preserved in its construction, as well as 10-plus miles of paved trails, which will include the largest trailhead on the Monon Corridor in late 2015.
Building a sports facility of this caliber was a large undertaking. Henke Development oversaw the park’s construction since the groundbreaking in November 2011. After more than two years of development, the first games took place in March, and the official grand opening was held in June.
The park’s success is reliant on two key stakeholder relationships. The city formed agreements with Bullpen Tournaments, an affiliate of LIDS Indiana Bulls, to manage the baseball diamonds, and Indiana Sports Properties, an affiliate of Indiana Soccer Association, to manage the multi-purpose fields. Each entity is responsible for scheduling and maintaining its respective facilities. These costs are offset by tournament and usage fees collected by the organizations.
In one weekend this summer, Grand Park hosted 265 baseball teams for the Indiana American Softball Association State Tournament, and the Grand Park Frenzy presented by Bullpen Tournaments. Recently, the Baseball Youth All-American Tournament and National Championship were held, featuring 105 teams from 30 states, and the Midwest Future Games drew the top 200 players from 13 states in the 2016 class. Scouts from 130 colleges and 27 states attended.
The soccer fields were also bustling, with numerous national events, including three U.S. Soccer events—the largest featured 110 U16-U18 teams from more than 30 states with over 2,500 participants and 400 college coaches. It is estimated that the three U.S. Soccer events alone amounted to $7.2 million in economic impact for the region. Grand Park also hosted the Indiana Soccer Cup Games (223+ teams) and Crossroads of America College Showcase event.
Continued development of the park will transition to phases with greater focus on hospitality and added value. For instance, the park has several open spaces dedicated for leisure and recreation between games. An open-ended approach to these spaces will allow the community and visitors to provide input during development. The primary goals of the spaces will be to maximize visit times and enhance quality-of-life. From splash pads to outdoor exercise equipment to interactive vendors, all options presented with quality-of-life and extended visits in mind will receive consideration.
Grand Park is not intended to generate a profit, but rather sustain itself and remain revenue-neutral. Future upgrades and enhancements will be funded with sponsorship dollars. The true payoff for the city comes in the form of increased commercial assessed value from private investment in the surrounding area. Recently, Holladay Properties announced it will build a $20-million, 335,000-square-foot indoor soccer facility, set to open at the park in 2015. The facility will feature three full-size soccer fields, office space, locker rooms, meeting space, and a restaurant operated by Jonathan Byrd’s.
To the south of the park, a development appropriately called Grand Park Village is in the works, which boasts a 5 1/2-acre lake, boardwalk, and Cape Cod-style architecture. Developer Greenwalt Corporation has committed to build the village’s first mixed-use building, which will break ground later this year. A new Taco Bell has already opened near the exit from US-31 and IN-32, and McDonald’s and Dairy Queen are currently under construction. Strong interest continues from a number of hotel operators to locate in the city.
With so much interest from several stakeholders, staying within the bounds of social responsibility and industry sustainability poses perhaps the park’s largest challenge. The city believes the larger-than-life scope of the park serves as a boon to accommodating both community desires and economic needs. The space and design of the park affords planners an opportunity to develop community and commercial space together, simultaneously. As the community grows and partnerships are created, so will possibilities to add value for local community members and tourists. Facing an entirely new scope of challenges, Grand Park is well-poised to meet these head-on.
Michelle Krcmery is the Marketing Manager for the city of Grand Park. Reach her at email@example.com.
Jordan McBride is the administrative assistant for the Westfield Parks and Recreation Department. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.