Williamsburg-area sports facility study offers regional approach

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

A new indoor sports facility Historic Triangle officials are considering whether to build could bring millions of much-needed tourism dollars to the area, according to a new study.

Sports Facility Advisory, a Florida-based group that studied the market for such a facility in 2014, recently updated its findings at the request of the city of Williamsburg, the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, as well as James City and York counties.

The alliance and Historic Triangle localities, and the Williamsburg Hotel and Motel Association paid $20,000 to the group to update the 2014 report; the update was made public in mid-May.

The group has not recommended a location for a new facility, although Sports Facility Advisory envisioned a two-acre plot of land on which a 97,525 square foot indoor fieldhouse would sit. The full cost of creating such a building would be $18.3 million, according to the study.

James City County's recreation center, located on Longhill Road, is 84,524 square feet and sites on 22.5 acres. In addition to the indoor facilities, there are outdoor picnic areas and walking trails.

The consultant determined an indoor facility that could hold events year-round for sports including basketball, volleyball and wrestling could yield more than $1 million in direct revenue to the venue as early as its second year.

The Sports Facility Advisory found tournaments held at such a facility could also bring $8 million in economic impact by a new facility's fifth year.

An indoor sports facility could result in people buying 63,000 more room nights within five years.

"One of the things the area needs is a change in the way it looks at tourism," said Ron Kirkland, executive director of the Williamsburg Hotel and Motel Association. "It needs to try and generate more demand for the rooms."

A regional impact

Karen Riordan, the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance, brought up an idea during a March City Council work session that Kirkland thinks could increase demand.

"We've never talked about the Sports Williamsburg brand actively," she said.

James City County assistant county administrator Jason Purse said any new facility is meant to drive tourists to all three localities — James City, York and Williamsburg.

"We've done a couple different studies," Purse said. "What they are looking at now is a regional facility."

More than 29 million people live in the Williamsburg tourism market, which is a 240-mile circle of people living around the area, according to the Sports Facility Advisory study.

The total economic impact could be as high $8 million by the fifth year the new facility is open, the study reads. By it's fourth year, the building could yield a profit.

The multi-purpose indoor facility would tap into a need not met by the smaller, single-purpose venues and outdoor facilities that already dot the Historic Triangle, according to the study.

The McReynolds Athletic Complex, in Yorktown, will host state baseball championships in June.

James City County is home to the Williamsburg Indoor Sports Complex, which includes an aquatics center that opened in early May. The complex hosts soccer, lacrosse and a bevy of summer sports tournaments.

Competition from other cities

Localities around the state are competing in what Riordan called an "arms race" to build facilities they will use to attract sports tournaments.

"Virginia Beach is building a huge aquatic center that will be south of us. It'll have state of the art technology and all," Riordan said. "We're also looking at places like Chesterfield County — they've been very active in sports tourism. Richmond and Henrico County have as well, so we're looking at good competition from some of our neighbors."

Richmond boasts a minor league baseball team — the Flying Squirrels — and the Washington Redskins' training camp is there. The city also hosts a volleyball tournament each May at the Greater Richmond Convention Center that brings dozens of teams to the city.

The greater Williamsburg area has promoted outdoor sports, Riordan said, but Virginia's weather prevents outdoor sports during part of the year. An indoor sports facility would help with attracting more visitors, who would bring tourism dollars.

"We get asked all the time (about events) by tournament holders, because they like visiting Williamsburg," Riordan said. "But if we don't have the venues and the facilities, we can't do it. The visitors would be great. They eat, book hotels rooms, they buy equipment."

William and Mary has courts for basketball and tennis, and other facilites available to visitors. Students take priority, but the general public can use the campus' facilites, which include Plumeri Park, Zable Stadium, Kaplan Arena. The college's Conference Services Department handles reservations.

Riordan said she and others are focused on attracting adult sports to match the efforts they've put into bringing youth sports in the area. She hears from people who wonder if the area has missed its chance.

"Those cities already have ideas, they already have funding," she said. "I'll hear: 'Are we too late?' I don't think so. There is still room to grow, and there is still time for us to do what we think is right for the area."

What's next

Purse said the next step is to see where the three localities could find money to fund a new facility.

"We know the study gives us the effects of another regional facility," Purse said. "What we're waiting on now is for them to get us some information on what kind of cash they may need. We'd have to see if it makes sense for us from a financial standpoint."

"Although the study makes various assumptions about cost, market share, and broader impact, it is clear that a buisness model for this concept does not exist," York County administrator Neil Morgan said.

City Council addressed establishing a Tourism Development Fund meant to provide money for projects that could bring tourists to the area during its June 5 and June 8 meetings.

"We're kind of in a waiting period here," Kirkland said. "We're obviously to see what the city is going to do with the Tourism Development Fund. If they can find a new source of revenue to fund things like sports facilities, that would benefit us."

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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