Emily Byrne, a senior at Boonville High School, was among 15 students who participated in a project with Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow Nico Gendron to learn about writing and reporting on their own communities. Byrne’s story was selected as a finalist in a contest among participants. Her story and the other winning projects are being published in the Missourian. You can read more about the project on our website.

The city of Boonville spent $8 million installing six soccer fields, one football field and one softball field at Boonville High School in hopes of drawing tournaments and increasing revenue to the city.

The new fields were partially paid for by the Parks and Stormwater sales tax. The six soccer fields are FIFA-certified and were already used for the Olympic Development Program before the official opening this spring.

The project — known as Project Pelé — has sparked a significant amount of controversy. Citizens who voted to pass the Parks and Stormwater sales tax were aware that public money would be used to install fields. However, there is an insufficient amount of restrooms, parking and general arrangements.

Additionally, because there are six new fields surrounding the high school, there is no opportunity to expand the school. The arrangement between the city and school was considered mutually beneficial; the high school’s property increased in value, and the city is able to utilize the high school’s pre-existing restrooms and parking.

“The purpose of the project came about due to the increased demand for soccer in this area. But the return on investment, I can’t really put a time frame on that,” said Paul Linhart, Parks and Recreation supervisor. “It will depend on the use of the facility. The size of the complex basically was using the land available. Hopefully, our location will be a large factor in drawing those teams from Kansas City or St. Louis as we are centered between the two. Right now the (Boonville Soccer Academy) has been utilizing the fields, among a few other organizations. Hopefully, as the project nears its completion we will have a much bigger use of the fields.”

The main purpose of installing the fields was to increase local tourism. By tapping into sports tourism, the city is attempting to draw people that would usually not come to a small town such as Boonville. Rather than driving the distance to an urban area, teams in mid-Missouri can meet in Boonville’s central location.

Large tournaments, which bring in more than 2,000 people, could also boost hotel revenue in Columbia. Boonville has eight hotels, and motels in Boonville can only accommodate about 676 people.

During a tournament hosted last year, more than 100 teams traveled to Boonville to compete on the new fields. The fields have already been reserved by Stephens College, Raytown and others.

Tourism director Katie Gibson referenced the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, for revenue comparison. “We (Boonville) doubled in population, and we had people from 28 other states. It brought in a lot of people, and we were very well-prepared for it,” Gibson said.

However, the Tourism Board did not keep exact records of how much revenue the solar eclipse generated compared to what Boonville’s local economy garners on a typical summer day.

“There are people who have already seen the effects of early tournaments,” Gibson said. “I think (the fields) will improve Boonville tourism and bring people in that would normally pass through the area and attract people regionally. … We will have some overflow into Columbia, but I think that will hopefully help push people to get hotels going and restaurants. It will be positive for all business owners and create opportunities for more businesses and hotels.”

Unlike the solar eclipse, Project Pele hopes to drive revenue continuously throughout the year. The majority of tournaments will kick off in the spring season when the park officially opens and will charge teams $75 per hour.

“You would never expect the small town of Boonville to have this; soccer is bigger than what most people believe,” Boonville Soccer Academy Director Jimi Barborotta said. “This is the easiest thing to do to bring people into Boonville without the use of mass personnel.”

Barbarotta went on to say that the Midwest Regional League, a tournament for youth in the Midwest, would be hosted on the fields and would include teams from 15 states. Those visiting Boonville for soccer are purchasing gas, renting hotels and eating at restaurants all of which increases revenue for the city.

If the fields bring in the tournaments and visitors as predicted, Boonville could see a need for more hotels and restaurants, further boosting the local economy. But it could still take years to see the long-term impact of the investment.

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