Feature Article - May 2016
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Destination for Sports

Creating Multi-Use Sports Facilities

By Joe Bush

Multi-use sports facilities are all the rage these days, especially because they can generate revenue.

There are a few reasons a municipality, public university or private university might want an area devoted to athletic endeavors—community growth and demand, renovation or replacement of existing facilities, the wish to attract tourism dollars through tournaments. If planned correctly, the money made from visitors boosts community commerce, and field or court rental can help with the expense and operation of the facilities.

"There's a bigger focus on sports as an economic driver across the country," said David Nardone, sport group leader at Stantec. "Space is at a premium, so (facilities) with synthetic surfaces are valued. You can look at cost of use, uses for your dollar, and synthetic surfaces start to make a lot of sense. Up front it might cost three times as much, but you get so many more uses so it definitely pays off.

"It also opens up rentals to help support the facility. Probably not going to pay for it outright, but it definitely can help support the facility."

Cost Considerations

Nardone mentioned just one calculation entities must make before approaching companies like Stantec, which take sports facility projects from idea to completion: Do you pay more for the synthetic surface that is more durable for heavier use, or less for natural grass, which athletes and coaches prefer but are higher maintenance and more sensitive to use and weather?

These are not small decisions. Dean Thomas, of landscape architecture and planning firm Dalhoff Thomas Design Studio, estimates for baseball and softball fields, a general range of $750,000 to $1 million per field. For soccer and multipurpose fields, Thomas said the numbers are generally $500,000 to $750,000 per field.

Thomas said those figures are overall costs that include design fees, engineering, earthwork, utilities, infrastructure, parking lots, hardscapes, buildings, lighting, common areas, landscape and irrigation. Prices will vary depending on the use of the facility, sizes of fields, earthwork requirements and wage rates, he said.

Thomas said some of the cost has nothing to do with the fields themselves. "Design of sports parks has become more 'high-end,'" Thomas said. "With the number of kids involved in competitive travel baseball, the competition to attract teams to your facility has increased. We have found that travel teams want to play at different facilities, and are willing to spend their money to play at nice, well maintained sport parks.

"Branding has also become a key to the design of many of these facilities. Ultimately the condition of the fields is the most important factor, but parks are looking for that extra identifying element that will make their facility memorable, and stand out in the minds of the visitors. We have seen the demand for better quality and more amenities steadily increase. Technology has driven sport parks to provide Wi-Fi. An increased awareness of the dangers of sun exposure has driven the demand for shade structures."

Surfaces are still king though, said Thomas, and where affordable, demand resources for the best of care. From the maintenance and management side, more municipalities are hiring full-time staff specifically committed to running a sports park, rather than have the park under the management of the overall parks director, he said. This staff often includes a planning and marketing director, turfgrass manager, assistant director, and three to four crew members who stay at the park full-time.

Professional Help, Community Input

Thomas said the most important advice for those considering a multi-use sports facility is to hire a professional to help guide you through the process. The planning phase is not the time to pinch pennies, if there is one at all.

Multi-use sports facilities are all the rage these days, especially because they can generate revenue.

"These are exciting projects with a lot of variables involved, and it is important to have someone involved who can coordinate all the moving pieces," Thomas said. "A professional will be able to provide a plan, help you avoid mistakes, put together a realistic schedule, create enthusiasm for the project, and calculate a preliminary construction cost estimate for the sports facility.

"In many cases, we recommend that an economic impact analysis be prepared. We would also recommend getting public input. If the public feels like they are involved in the process, they will be much more likely to support the project."

Larry Ryan, a principal at RJM Design Group, said one of his firm's single biggest area of specialization is community participation workshops. RJMDG visits a prospective area and helps craft a plan that represents the consensus of how best to develop and utilize a site. Ryan said that sometimes it's simple—everyone is in general agreement as to the nature of the project—and sometimes there are various factions that are entrenched in their own objectives, to the exclusion of everybody else.

"What we try to do is go through all the parties that might express dissatisfaction," he said. "We want them involved early on and maybe to participate, hopefully to understand the various challenges and see how the final plan is a by-product of that process and evolution.

"It's very challenging these days to develop a project; there are a lot of experts out there, a wide variety of user groups, and everybody's competing for limited space, limited field time and court time. The process of evaluating those user groups and requirements for their area of expertise, their field size, number of fields, all that stuff, is all put into this process so that you can begin to craft a solution that's going to be as inclusive as possible and work for the overall community."