Localities may take regional approach to sports tourism

Tjefferson@vagazette.com

Last week, the Greater Williamsburg area hosted two major sports events that drew volunteers, players and coaches from across the country.

The flow of money those players, coaches and parents spend at area hotels, businesses and restaurants is helping fuel a thirst local officials have to boost the area's sports tourism.

Officials from James City County, York County and the city of Williamsburg are considering whether to build an indoor sports facility that would allow the localities to host more tournaments during the winter months. Such facilities, however, could cost millions of dollars to build, and must be maintained and staffed.

The National Softball Association Class A Eastern World Series ran Monday through Friday at Kiwanis and Quarterpath parks.

More than 85 teams and 1,400 athletes from 10 states competed in the event that generated about $2 million for the local economy, said Lisa Pacheco, the director of sports for the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance.

James City County also hosted its third annual All Star football camp on Thursday and Friday at Wanner Stadium.

"You have a number of camps and the softball tournament and soccer camps. It's great for the kids," said Eric Stone, organizer of the All Star football camp. "I think the Williamsburg and James City County community is finally drawing these big sports events because it's a great place to come, visit and live. The more we can do stuff like this the better."

The existing sports infrastructure in the city and county are often scheduled months in advance. The fields at Warhill Sports Complex are booked until the end of the year and routinely fill up quickly by local partner groups like youth football and baseball groups.

James City County has six turf fields, eight grass fields and a football stadium. York County has the McReynolds Athletic Complex, which has 13 lighted fields.

"It's nice to have this (Warhill Sports Complex field). Twenty years ago this wasn't here when I was growing up we can expand this to offer so much more," said Rian Thompson, a volunteer at the all star football camp and class of '99 graduate from Lafayette High School. "You might not see the payoff right now but in years you will."

Building for the future

The question now for area officials is: what's next?

James City and York counties, along with the city of Williamsburg and the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance paid Sports Facility Advisory, a Florida-based group, to study the need and impact of building an indoor sports facility.

The study didn't recommend a location but it did envision a two-acre plot 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.

"Our goal is to get our debt down to ensure that we can provide a facility indoors in the next five years so that all weeks of the year we can have events indoors and outdoors," said county administrator Bryan Hill.

The indoor facility is not included in the county's five-year capital plan.

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

Hill said the county has not talked with the city about partnering to build an indoor facility.

City officials have said the revenue from a proposed tourism development fund could be used for sports facilities. The city specifically has pointed to the need for a fourth lighted field at Kiwanis Park, an indoor fieldhouse and an addition to the Quarterpath Recreation Center as potential projects that could be funded by the tourism fund.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss the proposal at its August meeting.

Hill said the county is immediately focused on improving the already existing facilities, and it has already set aside $4 million for turf at the fields at Warhill Sports Complex.

Outdoor overflow

The July heat is not deterring sports teams from booking James City's outdoor facilities. James City County park operations coordinator Kyle Loving said the Warhill Sports Complex fields are booked until the end of the year.

"We allocate field space for each of our partner groups on a year round basis," Loving said. "For regular season play we take requests toward the end of each year in November. It takes about two months to fill up the calender and put together that puzzle."

Loving said seven more tournaments and events are planned for the year at Warhill Sports Complex fields.

James City County parks and recreations director John Carnifax said the current inventory of facilities are enough to accommodate demand, for now.

"I think we're serving the population of residents and local leagues, but if you want to expand sports tourism to accommodate both our internal residents and external residents, we will have to look at expanding the facilities," said Carnifax.

Jefferson can be reached by phone at 757-790-9313.

Sports facilities

York County

McReynolds Athletic Complex- 13 lighted fields

James City County

Warhill Sports Complex- 15 total fields

Williamsburg

Kiwanis Park- three baseball fields

Quarterpath Park- three softball fields

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