As the host and facilitator of sporting events throughout the Inland Northwest, the Spokane Regional Sports Commission understands the theme of competition.
Now, with an ambitious new facilities study, the nonprofit agency is hoping to stay competitive with surrounding areas when it pertains to gyms, fields and other athletic venues.
Last month, Eric Sawyer, president of the Sports Commission, appeared before the Spokane Valley City Council to provide an update on the study – called “Project Sports – 2012 Vision Team” – along with an overview of the impact the SRSC has had in the greater Spokane Valley and across the region. Since 1989, Sawyer said, the commission has accounted for $200 million in economic development, most of that through tourism spending.
“We never take for granted the events that occur here every year,” Sawyer said at the Feb. 7 workshop session.
Established as a 501c-3 nonprofit, the Sports Commission specializes in “providing leadership and economic and community development through sports,” Sawyer said. With an annual budget of around $1.2 million, the group draws funding through the Tourism Promotion Area, countywide lodging taxes, the Spokane County Public Facilities District and its own fundraising efforts. This year, the city of Spokane Valley has committed $185,000 in lodging tax money to the commission.
Along with state high school championships in golf and basketball, the area hosted the American Legion World Series at Avista Stadium last summer. Sawyer also pointed to the popularity of Plantes Ferry Park, a venue that has been the site of the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships and the U.S. Track and Field Cross Country Championships in recent years.
“These events are putting our community on the map,” Sawyer said.
The problem, Sawyer told the council, is that communities like the Tri-Cities and Yakima are moving ahead of Spokane in the area of indoor and outdoor sporting facilities. Not only is the local community left with fewer venues for leagues and programs, Sawyer said, the scenario means a drawback in bidding for regional and national events.
“Right now, we’re falling behind the competition,” he said.
The first phase of Project Sports, completed last summer, addressed the current state of local venues by interviewing those involved in club sports and other programs throughout the region.
“It was about looking at the types of facilities we have now and what we could do to improve them,” Sawyer said.
0hat list includes the potential of adding two artificial turf soccer fields and lights at Plantes Ferry and the possibility of refurbishing five softball diamonds at the park. Sawyer also mentioned the HUB Sports Center and golf courses in Liberty Lake as keys to the region’s facilities inventory.
The second phase of the study will emphasize a compilation of proposed projects, from renovations to new venues. Spokane Valley Parks Director Mike Stone and Council Member Brenda Grassel are among those on the Project Sports steering committee. Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson and Jason Wheaton of Greenstone Inc. are also part of the group.
“We’re taking the information we have and building a priority list,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer – who has provided an overview of Project Sports to the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, Spokane County commissioners and other local groups – said the steering committee should have an update ready in approximately six months. After that, the discussion could include funding options like establishing a parks district, branching off of the Public Facilities District or going to ballot with some rendition of a capital projects initiative.
“At the end of the day, it will require some sort of public vote,” Sawyer said.