Across the country businesses along with cities and counties are changing their physical and economic landscape using Mega sports complexes. These indoor and outdoor facilities cover every type of youth sport that you can imagine, and are designed to capitalize on the $10 billion a year business that is youth sports.
Westfield, Indiana, a city of 30,000 people, took nearby corn and soybean fields and turned them into a 400 acre $49 million project that brings in $24 million a year to the local area’s economy. Myrtle Beach, SC and Florida’s Seminole County has tapped into youth sports tourism to prop up its sagging traditional tourism revenue.
The difference between these projects and the one proposed by Mayor Brent Lambert and the representatives of Exit One, LLC is one very small, but infinitely important detail … Execution.
Our City leaders are going to the commissioners of Hamilton County with their hand out and taxpayer check book open without doing even the slightest amount of due diligence. The plans being floated to the public are ones that have a disc golf course on top of swamp land owned by someone else. This small, tiny detail while seemingly trivial speaks volumes about the way business is conducted in East Ridge. It should scare every taxpayer in both East Ridge and Hamilton County.
This same thing has played out before.
The developers came to the city, said they needed a new Camp Jordan Parkway built along with the exit interchange redone. The total amount of the project was estimated to be $3 million dollars. Without doing one shred of due diligence or even getting a quote on the project our city leaders headed over to Hamilton County and got them to pledge one million dollars to the project. They worked TDOT to secure the other million and the city agreed to bare any additional costs. Today, my friends, the cost of Camp Jordan Parkway alone exceeded $3 million when accounting for lights, landscaping, and building of the road. This $3 million project costs today roughly $10 million.
A few years back Parks and Recreation Director Stump Martin was hired to bring in big tournaments and to secure for use of the city the lofty bank balances being carried by the youth leagues in the city. So we began to turn Camp Jordan into a small sports complex, hosting tournaments and money flowed in. However, It also flowed out.
Constant updates to the park, improvements to the fields, supplies needed to deal with continued flooding down there has amounted to thousands of dollars in additional expenses. A fence was torn down because someone thought it looked old, and within weeks the city was forced to buy a new one or lose the annual JFEST concert because you can’t charge people an admission fee when they can walk right in.
So each year the city gets bigger and bigger tournaments and Mr. Martin brags about how the arena is booked solid for the whole year. However, due to additional costs and expenses all those additional dollars flow right back out and the park costs taxpayers what it always did, about $750,000 dollars a year.
Our city leaders have continually shown that they don’t know how to execute things properly. Like a kid with money burning a hole in his pocket, we are so fast to buy something shiny and new we didn’t even know what we were getting ourselves into. The fact that I have yet to hear of the city hiring any consultants or other professionals to assist in the planning or estimation of this project scares me.
In business you can’t commit to spending money until you make sure you have a solid business plan that works. You need to know what your area needs and how you can take advantage of the resources you have to provide something that people want and in turn bring the desired profit and returns back to you in the end. If we want to seriously get into the business of youth sports tourism we should be treating it as a business, not a public utility.
I won’t even start to ask what happens when enough cities build these complexes that they start to cannibalize each other and cities are forced to spend more money to make them even better…
While these sports complexes change the trajectory for many cities and towns around the country it’s sad to say that in East Ridge it will most likely be poor execution that once again shoots our runner in the foot before he can even get off the starting block.