Sports Town grand opening marks $30 million investment in Springfield’s northwest side

Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 7:57 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Friday marked the unveiling of a new crown jewel sports facility on Springfield’s northwest side as the Betty and Bobby Allison Sports Town held its grand opening. It’s a multi-use indoor-and-outdoor sports facility that’s expected to have a significant effect on the area’s economy.

Located next to the Springfield-Branson National Airport, Sports Town is an impressive 82-acre venue put together by a pair of Tulsa investors along with a contribution from the late Bobby Allison (Betty was his mother). The outdoor part of the venue features 12 soccer fields including four with artificial turf surfaces.

That part of Sports Town had already been in use but Friday marked the grand opening of the 94,000 square-foot indoor facility which has two soccer fields and space that can hold eight volleyball courts or four basketball courts.

The open expanse features scoreboards, bleachers, the latest in equipment, bathroom facilities, meeting rooms, concessions plus indoor-and-outdoor eating spaces.

“When we first came up with the idea to put a sports complex on this side of Springfield everybody looked at us like we were crazy,” Tulsa developer and part-owner Rob Phillips told a sizeable crowd in attendance. “But I hope you see now that this is going to spur development on this side of town that’s been lacking for many years. We promised the community that we would build one of the finest sports complexes in the region and I think we’ve fulfilled our promise. At a minimum we’re looking at 19 new state, regional and national tournaments annually and nearly 100,000 attendees. And those tourists will spend over $30 million in new dollars for Springfield tourism with over 48,000 new hotel room nights and hotel occupancy taxes of over a quarter-of-a-million dollars.”

But it didn’t come without challenges. The project was started during the pandemic and the owners admitted there were some trying times.

“It started out as a $20 million project and we went over $30 million but we had to bite the bullet,” Phillips said. “Steel prices went up 300 percent on us and they were delayed six months. It was an extremely challenging time.”

“No development project is without its bumps but this was enhanced by COVID,” added Tulsa consultant and part owner Stan Liedel. “We thought we’d be open by April, then August but it kept going month-by-month because you couldn’t get this particular part or this basketball goal was delayed another two weeks.”

Sports Town is just the latest of three big projects on the city’s northside that are expected to bring in more regional and national events to help the local economy. The other two being the new 6,600-seat arena at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds and the $25 million in upgrades at Cooper Park.

“Our soccer, baseball and softball complexes are going to get 19 turf fields and that will complement what this facility is going to be able to do along with the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds new arena,” explained Springfield-Greene County Park Board Director Bob Belote. “The goal initially is that we’re benefitting our local families but the layer on the backside is bringing in the visitors’ spending and sports tourism to keep our economy strong.”

And the Park Board doesn’t see Sports Town as a competitor.

“At the end of the day we want families active,” Belote said. “Whether it’s our facility or a private one we want people staying healthy. I think there’s plenty to share here and we can all play in the same sandbox. But we’re expanding it and becoming a player in the Midwest with tournament activities and I couldn’t be more excited about that.”

In keeping with Sports Town’s goals of serving both local athletes as well as putting on regional and national events, the venue will have leagues for soccer, volleyball, and football.

“We’ve got everything from an 18 month-old in our Lil’ Kickers program all the way up to adults who were playing on the indoor soccer fields last night,” said Sports Town General Manager Stacie Wells. “I think a lot of times parents don’t know where to send their child to play a sport and while there’s amazing community center programs here locally, there are kids who faze-out, age-out or skill-out of those programs and don’t have a place to go unless they can go to a club program and not everyone has that opportunity. By providing those leagues here we’re going to open up so many opportunities for kids especially on this side of town.”

But now that the first-class facilities are being built, will those regional and national events get lured to come here?

Sports Town officials say they already are booked solid with local and regional event through 2025 and as a private entity don’t plan on operating in the red.

“You don’t make a lot of money by renting these courts,” Liedel explained. “It comes from tournaments and your own programming. When you don’t have a Sports Commission that doesn’t have a proper budget (Springfield Sports Commission’s budget is $250,000, well below other cities its size), you cannot really lure those big events to the community. We’ve got those local and regional tournaments but what we’re trying to do for Springfield is get the Sports Commission more money so they can use all the area facilities for national events.”

Springfield Mayor Ken McClure, who attended the grand opening, was asked if increasing the Springfield Sports Commission’s budget was possible.

“The first step is going to be for the cooperation to occur between the parks department and the facility here,” he said. “I’m assuming and expecting that will happen and once it does we we can get a coordinated marketing approach. So I’m confident that’s going to occur and I think we’re well on the way to doing that.”

Sports Town’s construction is not finished yet. Up next is a retail and lodging development at the entrance to the property.

“We’ve been waiting quite frankly for the sports complex to get finished first,” Phillips said. “It is a little bit of the chicken and the egg. You have to have the bodies to support the retail, lodging and restaurants and that’s why we wanted to get this part open first. Now we’re ready to focus full-steam on moving dirt over there in the next few months and within 12-18 months we’ll be 100 percent complete over there.”

McClure expects other developments to come along as well.

“This is so close to the airport that people coming in are going to be seeing this,” he pointed out. “So I think more development will occur in the region right around here and that’s going to be so important for us.”

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