SNOW HILL – A county-operated outdoor sports complex could have as much as a $23 million economic impact in Worcester County.
On Tuesday, Crossroads Consulting Services presented the Worcester County Commissioners with a report detailing the potential costs and revenues associated with a tournament-size sports complex. While some commissioners expressed concern over the $25-$30 million such a facility would cost to build, others stressed the importance of exploring sports tourism.
“Our big breadwinners are tourism and agriculture,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said. “Agriculture is going to hold its own, I hope, but as far as tourism goes we are at critical mass. The numbers aren’t going to change. In order for that to change, we’re going to have to change. We’re going to have to have some vision and look ahead. Sports tourism is the future.”
In 2016, Worcester County and the Maryland Stadium Authority hired Crossroads Consulting to conduct a market analysis for a new outdoor sports complex. When that revealed that there was demand, Crossroads Consulting was asked to proceed with an economic analysis of the project. On Tuesday Susan Sieger of Crossroads Consulting shared the results of that analysis with the commissioners.
She said the company investigated the potential of a complex that would include eight tournament-quality rectangular turf fields that could be used for soccer, lacrosse, rugby and the like. To accommodate the fields, support buildings and parking, she said the project would need to be situated on a property at least 40 acres in size.
“This is not site specific,” she said. “There was no specific property that was tested.”
She did say, however, that people would expect hotels and restaurants to be located within 10 miles.
“The users are willing to drive about 10 miles for amenities,” she said.
If the county moved forward with the complex, once it was established Sieger said it would employ four to five people and would operate at a loss of at least $136,000 a year, as operating expenses exceeded revenues. Sieger added that the county should also plan on setting aside money each year to go toward field replacement, as the artificial turf fields proposed lasted from eight to 15 years.
According to Sieger, projected tournament activity would take place between March and November. As many as 21 tournaments could draw between 25,500 and 31,500 participants and possibly as many as 78,750 spectators to the area.
Direct spending related to the facility would range from $18.9 million to $23.3 million, Sieger said. Indirect spending associated with the complex would range from $13.8 million to $17.1 million.
Crossroads Consulting expects that at least 320 jobs would be created if the complex were built. Local revenues could reach $551,000 while state revenues are estimated between $1.9 million and $2.4 million.
Commissioners questioned the upfront costs that would come with the construction of the complex as proposed. Al Tyler of the Maryland Stadium Authority said that each turf field would cost at least $1 million to build and would cost roughly $500,000 to replace. He said he expected construction of the complex to cost $25-$35 million.
“Based on previous projects we’ve looked at, that could be a reasonable starting range,” he said, adding that did not include the cost of the land itself.
Though several commissioners stressed that they’d never envisioned a wholly county owned facility, Sieger said that had been the model investigated because Crossroads Consulting had no potential private partner to discuss the project with. Commissioner Jim Bunting asked how the county could attract a private partner when the facility was expected to operate at a loss.
Sieger explained that there were certain companies that specialized in running facilities like the one proposed.
“They can sometimes operate a little leaner,” she said. “They also have some buying power.”
She said working with one of those companies was certainly an option for Worcester County.
“There’s definitely different ways to do it depending on your objective,” she said.
Commissioner Bud Church said his grandchildren traveled significantly to compete in sports tournaments. He pointed out that towns that hosted sports tournaments saw a huge amount of spending by families whose children participated in them.
“These are things you have to put in the equation,” he said.
Commissioner Chip Bertino asked if Crossroads was envisioning a complex in the north end of the county. Sieger replied that the complex could be anywhere as long as it was within 10 minutes’ drive of a “critical mass” of restaurants and hotels.
Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw pointed out that people who attended pony penning in Chincoteague stayed as far away as Salisbury.
“When you have something that’s a big draw, people are willing to travel,” he said.
Though he expressed concern regarding turf fields, which he said tended to get hot, as well as the concept of an entirely county owned facility, Mitrecic advocated for the complex. He said the amount of spending associated with youth sports tournaments was phenomenal. He referenced the recent USSSA Fastpitch Eastern World Series.
“These are things the people in the tourism community come to depend on…,” he said, adding that if the county waited, privately owned complexes would pop up throughout Delmarva. “The county’s going to lose out on some of this market. I hope the commissioners decide to try to move forward with this.”
When asked for her input, Merry Mears, the county’s economic development director, said her task was to support the commissioners as they explored possibilities for Worcester County. She said that the $500,000 in revenues associated with the complex would offset the annual operating loss.
“There is risk moving forward,” she said. “There’s a lot of money at stake, but I fully agree that when you have an opportunity such as this and you have other people in the region that are looking to move forward with this opportunity, we could miss out.”
The commissioners took no action Tuesday. If they decide to purse the idea of a sports complex further, Tyler said the next step would be a second study that would outline potential design and construction costs.