SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) — Friday marked the unveiling of a new crown jewel athletic facility on Springfield’s northwest side as the Betty and Bobby Allison Sports Town held its grand opening. It is a multipurpose indoor/outdoor sports facility that is expected to have a significant impact on the region’s economy.
Adjacent to Springfield-Branson National Airport, Sports Town is an impressive 82-acre venue put together by two Tulsa investors along with a contribution from the late Bobby Allison (Betty was his mother). The outdoor area of the venue has 12 soccer fields, including four with artificial grass surfaces.
This part of Sports Town was already in use, but Friday saw the grand opening of the 94,000-square-foot indoor facility with two soccer fields and space for eight volleyball or four basketball courts.
The open space features scoreboards, grandstands, the latest equipment, restrooms, meeting rooms, concessions, and indoor and outdoor dining areas.
“When we first came up with the idea of building a sports complex this side of Springfield, everyone looked at us like we were crazy,” Tulsa developer and partner Rob Phillips said to a sizeable crowd. “But I hope you see now that this will spur development on this side of the city that has been lacking for many years. We promised the municipality that we would build one of the most beautiful sports facilities in the region and I think we have fulfilled our promise. We anticipate at least 19 new state, regional and national tournaments annually and nearly 100,000 participants. And those tourists will spend over $30 million in new dollars on Springfield tourism with over 48,000 new hotel nights and over a quarter million dollars in hotel occupancy taxes.”
But it was not without challenges. The project was launched during the pandemic and the owners admitted there have been some tough times.
“It started out as a $20 million project and we went over $30 million, but we had to bite the bullet,” Phillips said. “Our steel prices have increased by 300 percent and they have been delayed by six months. It was an extremely challenging time.”
“No development project is without bumps, but this has been made better by COVID,” added Tulsa consultant and part owner Stan Liedel. “We thought we were going to open in April and then August, but it just kept going month after month because you couldn’t get that particular part or that basketball goal was delayed another two weeks.”
Sports Town is just the latest of three major projects in the north of the city that are expected to bring in more regional and national events to support the local economy. The other two are the new 6,600-seat arena at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds and the $25 million in upgrades at Cooper Park.
“Our football, baseball and softball complexes will have 19 grass pitches and that will complement what this facility can do with the new arena at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds,” said Bob Belote, Springfield-Greene County Park Board Director. “The goal first is that we benefit our local families, but the shift at the back brings in visitor spending and sports tourism to keep our economy strong.”
And the Park Board doesn’t see Sports Town as a competitor.
“Ultimately, we want families to be active,” Belote said. “Whether it’s our facility or a private one, we want people to stay healthy. I think there is a lot to share here and we can all play in the same sandbox. But we’re expanding and becoming a Midwest player with tournament activity, and I couldn’t be more excited about that.”
Consistent with Sports Town’s goals of serving local athletes as well as hosting regional and national events, the venue will have leagues for soccer, volleyball and soccer.
“We have everything from an 18-month-old kid on our Lil’ Kickers program to adults who played on the indoor soccer fields last night,” said Stacie Wells, general manager of Sports Town. “I think a lot of times parents don’t know where to send their child to exercise, and while there are amazing community center programs locally, there are kids who drop out of those programs, age or lose their skills and don’t have a place, that they can go to unless they can go to a club program and not everyone has that opportunity. By having these leagues here, we’re going to open up so many opportunities for kids, especially on this side of town.”
But now that the world-class facilities are being built, will these regional and national events be lured here?
Sports Town officials say they are already fully booked with local and regional events through 2025 and, as a private company, have no plans to be in the red.
“You don’t make a lot of money renting out these pitches,” Liedel explained. “It comes from tournaments and your own programming. Unless you have a sports commission that doesn’t have a decent budget (Springfield Sports Commission’s budget is $250,000, well below the size of other cities), you can’t really attract these big events to the community. We have these local and regional tournaments, but we’re trying to get more money for the Springfield athletic commission to use all of the region’s facilities for national events.”
Springfield Mayor Ken McClure, who attended the opening ceremony, was asked if it would be possible to increase the Springfield Sports Commission’s budget.
“The first step will be cooperation between the park administration and the facility here,” he said. “I anticipate and expect that to happen and once that happens we can develop a coordinated marketing approach. So I’m confident that’s going to happen and I think we’re well on our way to doing that.”
The construction of Sports Town is not yet complete. Next is a retail and accommodation development at the entrance to the property.
“We’ve been openly waiting for the sports complex to be finished first,” Phillips said. “It’s a bit chicken and egg. You need to have the bodies to support retail, accommodation and restaurants and that’s why we wanted to open that part first. Now we are ready to put our full effort into getting dirt there for the next few months and within 12 to 18 months we will be 100 percent done there.”
McClure expects other developments to follow as well.
“It’s so close to the airport that people coming in will see it,” he said. “So I think there’s going to be more development happening in the region around here and that’s going to be so important for us.”
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