Many communities getting in the game of making money from recreation

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 14, 2003

Jackson, Tenn., will get a big boost to its economy this week simply because of baseball.

The city expects an estimated gross of $1.5 million to $2 million during the six-day span, according to Tom Hanson, director of the 2003 Dixie Boys World Series.

The 13- and 14-year-olds play the World Series in Jackson this summer, bringing 24 teams &045; including the Natchez 13-year-olds &045; with a host of parents and spectators into Jackson and Madison County to stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and shop in stores.

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And all because Madison County won the bid to host both of the World Series, showing it had the facilities and accommodations for the events.

Jackson is not the only community feeling an impact because of recreational facilities. Many communities throughout the region are from such facilities, while Natchez considers its options for updating its own parks.

Economic impact

While these two tournaments in Jackson are hosted by the county at county facilities, games will be played in Jackson and participants will stay there as well.

Softball, baseball and soccer tournaments all find their way to Jackson. Parks and recreation director in Jackson, Jim Jacobs, said the tournaments mean money for Jackson, mounting up to millions of dollars throughout the years.

&uot;Bigger the complexes you have, the more lucrative tournaments you bring in,&uot; Jacobs said. &uot;It’s one of those snowball effects of building the complex on the front end.&uot;

Clemon Terrell, director of parks and recreation in Hattiesburg said recreation brings many people to the city, which always brings money. The city has hosted many tournaments, its largest in soccer, having hosted three tournaments with more than 140 teams.

Terrell could not put the economic impact of recreation in Hattiesburg into dollar figures, only saying the impact was &uot;tremendous.&uot;

Not using a roll over variable in the equation, counting the number of times money brought in would change hands in the city, Vicksburg Parks and recreation director Craig Upton said the Governor’s Cup, with 32 teams participating, earned Vicksburg a little more than $130,000.

Making recreation an attraction

Jacobs said an integral way to earn money from recreation is to make the city an attractive place that can accommodate the needs of traveling teams.

&uot;When they are looking to host something, they are going to go to whichever location has a good geographical location and has facilities to accommodate and hotels and restaurants,&uot; Jacobs said.

Jacobs said it does not take long for tournaments to come to an area if the facilities are there.

&uot;You build a top-notch facility and they will come knocking on your door,&uot; Jacobs said. &uot;If you have what goes with it, they will probably be contacting you before you ever play the first game.&uot;

Upton said one way to attract tournaments is to have many facilities or fields in one location so many tournaments, involving many different age groups and therefore family members, can be played simultaneously.

Terrell said once the facilities and local associations are in place, the local teams and associations will make bids for tournaments, leaving little for officials to do.

And another way to get tournaments is relationships. Terrell said if there are relationships established with teams from other areas, those people will want to come to the facilities.

Paying for the facilities

Most of the recreational facilities in Hattiesburg are older, many more than 30 or 40 years old. However, there are a few newer fields.

Terrell said through neighborhood support and public hearings, the newest park was built. Most of the funding in Hattiesburg came from bond issues.

Jacobs said Jackson used a combination of ways to pay for its facilities. The city did use some federal and local grants but most of the money came from basic local monies, money from property and sales taxes, various types of bonds and in-kind supplements, what money you have with either people or through a volunteer system.

In Vicksburg, the recreation department gained $1 million through bond issue money for a softball complex but the city did not have the land for that so it built a swimming facility instead.

Many of the fields have been in Vicksburg for years, like Hattiesburg, but the city adds additional fields by budgeting for them every year, usually one per year. With a master plan in mind, the city just adds to existing fields.

However, the city has earned grants for various things, such as a $5,000 match to implement a tennis program.

But Upton said if tournaments are steadily flowing in, &uot;the money coming in would even pay for the complex.&uot;

Gaining support

Jacobs said the people using the complexes, the leagues in the city, usually bring grassroots support for recreational facilities. As far as getting the rest of the city to agree, Jacobs said a city needs an assessment through a long-range plan. It is easier to sell a large project by spreading it out for several years. Also, letting the residents know how the facility can benefit them will help sell the idea, he said.

One motivation for recreational facilities is that the possibility of revenue from the facility could help keep tax levels steady, Jacobs said.

Things to improve upon

While all three of these cities have functioning recreation systems and facilities, they are not without further wants and needs.

Hattiesburg has had an explosion of soccer, and Terrell said the city is in the process of building six more soccer fields.

Upton said Vicksburg needs an adult softball complex. Right now it is hard to hold a tournament with men and women at the same complex but then the men’s fields are very far away from the women’s.

He said the city is trying to build everything together and fields in four-plexes so families can watch one another, making the facilities more conducive to many tournaments and games.

Jacobs also said Jackson has a need for adult softball fields and a complex.

&uot;Softball tournaments have been big for years and it is big business,&uot; Jacobs said.

And, Jackson also needs added acreage, Jacobs said, to build additional soccer fields like Hattiesburg.

Jacobs said an additional need in communities, a new trend on the rise, is skate parks.

So as facilities are built and teams are made, the needs and wants of cities grows but so have the benefits &045; attracting people and money to the cities.