Sports Tourism

A crew with Scott & Murphy Concrete Specialists out of Bowling Green work to smooth out a newly poured concrete walkway entrance shaped in the form of a baseball diamond’s home plate Wednesday at the Kentucky Legend Fields at Jack C. Fisher Park. The fields at the park are open after a $2.95 million makeover.

Imagine a time in the, hopefully, not too distant future.

The coronavirus pandemic

is over.

The Kentucky Legend Fields at Jack C. Fisher Park are open after a

$2.95 million makeover.

And a new indoor sports complex in the former Macy’s building at Towne Square Mall is ready to open.

“We will have a huge boom in sports tourism,” Jared Bratcher, sports marketing director for the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said recently. “We estimated that sports tourism accounted for $20 million to $22 million last year. It would be a lot more than that with the new Fisher Park and an indoor sports complex.”

It’s impossible at this point to estimate how many millions more could be generated by the two sports facilities, he said.

The indoor complex would produce an even bigger tourism impact than the ballpark, Bratcher said. “It would be the largest tourism dollar driver in the area.”

Last month, a group of local investors — Owensboro Indoor Sports LLC — bought the old Macy’s property for $1.25 million.

Jim Estes, spokesman for the group, said at the time, “We’re willing to do whatever the city wants out there.”

Last week, he said, “I met with Mark Calitri (CVB president) and a facility development and marketing company today. Our goal is to provide a service the city says it needs. It will be attached to a mall, something that’s being done all over the country. We feel like it can be a win-win-win for us, the mall and the city.”

Mall will come back“There’s plenty of parking out there and room to build on,” Bratcher said. “We anticipate them working together with the mall owners. They need each other to be successful. We see a mall of some type, but maybe with doctors’ offices, a sports clinic, restaurants, day care. I definitely see it coming back, but not as it was.”

He said, “If you provide everything the fans need, they will park there all day.”

Bratcher said, “Six to eight basketball courts are needed. If we had that, we could attract 60 to 80 basketball and volleyball teams for tournaments. Indoor sports are exploding. Archery, volleyball, dance and cheer, basketball. They could all use that space. I’d like to see something there every weekend.”

Estes said, “You’re looking at a year to build something like this. And you don’t want to open in June. You want the right season.”

He said the rafters are 26 feet high, so the roof won’t have to be raised.

“Think what this would do for restaurants and hotels,” Estes said. “There are hotels in walking distance. South Frederica is very much alive, but there’s room from improvement. That’s what we want to do.”

Calitri said a study by Pinnacle Indoor Sports found that the economic impact of an indoor facility would be at least $33 million over a 10-year period.

“There are brighter times ahead,” he said. “With the improvements to existing sports facilities and the new potential indoor facility, Owensboro is poised to come out of the gate running. We are Kentucky’s premier sports town, and we plan to show why once the pandemic passes.”

Bratcher said, “Pickleball, basketball and volleyball would probably be the main things there. Six basketball courts would equal 12 volleyball courts. We already have a national and a state archery tournament coming next year. Indoor football, indoor soccer, wrestling, martial arts, futsal are all possibilities. We would try for almost any sport. But it would need a strong local base of competitors.”

Fisher Park is readyFisher Park is ready to open once the pandemic ends.

It will start having a major economic impact immediately, Bratcher said — once the pandemic is over.

Amanda Rogers, the city’s parks and recreation director said, “We know these improvements will secure our place in the market moving forward and continue to help Owensboro stay competitive for another 30 years.”

She said, “We are all disappointed that we cannot draw travelers and teams to our venue this season, but we’re taking this opportunity to get the renovations completed promptly and looking into opening earlier next season with no schedule conflicts or closures.”

The front parking lot has been expanded from 35 parking spaces to 103. And the back lot has grown from 290 to 350 spaces.

The main improvement was adding synthetic turf infields to prevent rainouts.

“Snow is about the only thing that can cancel a game there now,” Bratcher said.

There’s also a new ticketing entrance, security cameras, a ball and bat statue, a playground and other improvements including heat in the fieldhouse to keep restrooms and concessions open earlier and later in the season.

“Fisher Park already drew millions of dollars into the community each year,” Bratcher said. “It should double next year.”

He said, “We’ve just about maxed out available dates at Fisher next year. There probably won’t be an open weekend there next year from February through Thanksgiving. There won’t be any rainouts, so there’s a long list of groups that want to rent the park.”

Bratcher said, “It’s not the same Fisher Park. It’s a brand new park.”

He said, “Our hotels are ready. They’re chomping at the bit. If things open back up in 2021, it will be one of the biggest — if not the biggest — sports years ever in Owensboro.”

‘Huge sports boom’He predicts a “huge sports boom” once Fisher Park and the indoor sports complex are both open.

“The future couldn’t be brighter,” Bratcher said.

In 2018, the CVB hired Pinnacle Indoor Sports of Louisville to do a study of the community’s needs for sports facilities.

“We are at a critical point,” Mark Calitri, CVB president, said at the time. “Our challenge is to be able to fill more hotel rooms with two more hotels opening this year and another on the way. We have to generate more occupancy.”

And tournaments are a way of drawing visitors to town and filling hotel beds.

Pinnacle recommended that the infields of the four diamonds at Fisher Park be replaced with artificial turf and that a 60,000-square-foot indoor sports facility be built in either central Owensboro or on the east side of town.

The old Macy’s building is 80,000 square feet.

The Pinnacle report said the Owensboro market “is average in terms of the attractions it offers for sports tournaments and its ability to draw participants from a regional area. If a proposed facility were built, the city also would compete for tournaments with regional communities of similar or larger size, such as Elizabethtown, Louisville, Nashville, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Chicago.”

It said, “sports organizations representing volleyball, archery and pickleball have the highest need for indoor tournament locations, which would attract participants from outside the area. Baseball/softball teams are already utilizing Owensboro as a tournament destination, and representatives from organizations Pinnacle interviewed would like to see the existing sites upgraded to compete with newer facilities in the regional marketplace.”

The report said, “A multipurpose indoor hard-court facility would attract usage by area pickleball and futsal groups, according to interviews Pinnacle conducted. Weekday use by local residents would supplement revenue generated by tournaments attracting participants from around the region, helping make a new facility in Owensboro a regional sports destination for indoor events.”

The Pinnacle team said that Nancy Funk, assistant commissioner of the Pioneer Region of USA Volleyball, believes that “a proposed hard-court facility (could draw) tournament teams from as far as five hours away.”

An indoor facility, the report said, should include sports performance training, food service, parties, facility rentals, retail, youth development programs and corporate partnerships.

Bratcher said sporting events already lined up for 2021 include the Mid South Conference Men’s Tennis Tournament, the Mid South Conference Women’s Tennis Tournament, ACO Cornhole Championships, 2A Boys/Girls State Basketball Championships, NDA/NCA Regional Cheerleading Championship, S3DA State Archery Championships, S3DA National Archery Championships, Mid South Conference Men’s/Women’s Tourney, Daviess County State Soccer, 2A State Championships-Baseball, 2A State Championships-Softball, All A State Softball Championships, Greater Owensboro Pickleball Championship, Sizzling September Pickleball Tourney, State Championships-Girls Volleyball and 2A State Championships-Boys/Girls Soccer.

A lot more will be added before spring, he said.

Keith Lawrence 270-691-7301;

Keith Lawrence 270-691-7301

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