Guest Column: Reclaiming First project has many benefits for citizens

By Commissioner Nate Martin with Executive Director Tim Dimke
Rockford Park District

There is momentum building for the “next big thing” for our community, a regional cooperative approach to “reclaiming first” place in the amateur sports market. There has been much dialogue about the economic benefits of a sports tourism market, but little shared about how our local residents can access the premier facilities that are being planned in various regions of the Rockford area.

The Rockford Park District’s mission is to “help people enjoy life” by providing a quality park and recreation system. Our primary purpose is to first serve our local residents. However, when there are opportunities to invite non-residents, tourists, and visitors to use our facilities, we will do so. There are many obvious economic benefits to the local economy when guests participate in Park District programs and facility utilization.

More than 30 years ago, the Rockford Park District expanded its role in sports tourism while working with the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. National soccer and softball tournaments were attracted to the Rockford area because of the direct access to the Sportscore One complex. As these tournaments grew in participation over the years, they were often coordinated by local clubs and organizations for primarily fundraising benefits. Local clubs and organizations were able to use the proceeds from non-resident participants to offset expenses for their clubs’ members. Additionally, local teams did not have to incur travel expenses to other sports venues outside of the Rockford area; quality, competitive programs and tournaments could be held locally in the Park District’s premier facilities.

Sportscore One became so busy that we expanded to our Sportscore Two complex. Other communities recognized the success of our facility complexes, and began to add other amenities such as artificially turfed and lighted fields. Frankly, we fell behind the marketplace. Our facilities were considered quality complexes, but no longer state-of-the-art playing fields. With more than 500 local volleyball, softball, basketball and soccer traveling teams, it is desirable to once again become the leader in sports venues to accommodate the local need.

Local residents will indeed benefit from the expansion and enhancements we plan on building through “Reclaiming First.” Growing our facility capacity allows for more local residents to participate during the week, as well as engage in weekend programs and tournaments. In our current complexes, local residents make up about 70 percent of the users.

The other 30 percent are non-residents who help offset operating costs, allowing us to maintain reasonable user fees for Rockford area residents. Not only do local residents have full access to all program participation, they do so by paying resident rates. Our visitors, while using only 30 percent of the available field time, produce 70 percent of the facility revenue. Therefore, non-residents contribute significantly to operational costs, allowing area residents to pay substantially lower rates.

It is our intent to allow local residents priority access to our premier facilities while we reclaim the amateur sports market of the Midwest. It remains a project goal to have our facilities partly funded by non-local sources with non-local participants. If we realize our plans, local residents will have the greatest access to state-of-the-art facilities as they “enjoy life” in the Rockford area.

From the Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2012, issue

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