COLUMBIA — Mayor Bob McDavid and Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood recognize the impact that youth sports have on Columbia's economy.
If voters approve Proposition 1, allowing the city to build more sports fields, they said, the city could bid on bigger tournaments and bring in more people. Columbia, they added, could be a centrally-located venue for major state and national tournaments.
City voters approved two one-eighth-cent sales taxes in 2000. One was permanent; the other was set to expire after five years, but voters in 2005 elected to extend it until March 2011.
If voters approve Proposition 1, which would extend the renewable tax for another five years, it would generate about $12 million through 2015 and would go toward Parks and Recreation Department capital improvements.
If Proposition 1 passes, several of the city's youth sports leagues will see changes in the quality and quantity of their fields, but not for a few years.
Some of the projects that would be funded by the park sales tax over the next five years, such as the first phase of projects at the Gans Creek Recreational Area and Philips Park, are slated to receive new or improved sports fields.
Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, estimated that youth sports tournaments pump $1.05 million directly into the economy per year. Data from the bureau indicates 16,675 people came to town during fiscal year 2010 for youth baseball and softball tournaments, and they booked 2,519 hotel rooms. Another 930 came for Columbia Pride soccer tournaments, but the bureau did not have data on hotel stays for those events.
Steiner's estimate does not include spending by family members or other fans who come to town for the events. It also does not include revenue from the Show-Me State Games or high school tournaments.
The city now has five or six full-size soccer fields, Hood said. They're hoping for 14 to 20.
Chad Henry, president of Columbia Youth Football League, said there is a need for more sports facilities in the city. They are restricted on the tournaments they can bid on because of the limited number of full-size sports fields.
"It would be beneficial to the city to be able to host regional youth athletic events," he said. "The park sales tax is great because that money goes directly to Parks and Recreation, toward facilities."
Tracy Kimberlin, president and CEO of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted the change during that city's major tournaments. On certain weekends, such as the National Christian HomeSchool basketball championship in March, "it's hard to find a (hotel) room," he said.
About 360 teams attended the championship held at Missouri State University in Springfield last year. Kimberlin said it can bring in 8,000 to 10,000 people, which is a noticeable impact on the city of 151,000. He added that some soccer tournaments can bring in 10,000 to 15,000 people, and local businesses see a jump in sales.
Kimberlin said Springfield is well-equipped for several sports and handling large amounts of people.
"We have excellent soccer facilities, and we have excellent softball facilities," he said. "We do have an ice rink, but with only two sheets of ice." He doesn't think the rink is adequate for a big hockey tournament.
Blue Springs is another major host city for sports tournaments, such as those held by the Missouri Youth Soccer Association. Blue Springs spokeswoman Kim Nakahodo said there is a noticeable change in the population on weekends when there is a big tournament in town. Blue Springs has a population of 55,700.
Nakahodo said her staff sends out information about Blue Springs — complete with listings for hotels, restaurants and even laundromats for cleaning dirty uniforms — to representatives of the invited leagues.
Carol Reed, administrative secretary in Blue Springs' Parks and Recreation Department, said Blue Springs hosts about 40 events per year. On average, about 100 teams participate in soccer tournaments, and about 50 teams participate in softball tournaments.
McDavid said youth sports are an important economic driver for the city and have room to grow in Columbia.
"There's a substantial economic benefit to developing the youth sports industry," he said.