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Friday, April 12, 2024

Play Ball!

Sometime this spring, likely in the middle of May, the new Evansville Sports Complex will officially open for play. With eight ball diamonds that can be used for baseball and softball for both youth and adults, it is designed to be a state-of-the-art attraction.

Bob Warren, executive director of the Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the project has stayed on time and on budget over the winter and construction has proceeded. Though the date of the official ribbon cutting hasn’t been set, the first event at the new park begins May 29, which is a youth baseball tournament.

“The economic impact of this park will be huge,” says Warren. “We hope to generate 180,000 to 200,000 new visitors into our community each year. We are looking somewhere in the neighborhood of $13 million to $16 million annually in lodging, goods, and services purchased by those people. That is all brand new money to our community.”

Warren says teams coming from out of town will bring additional customers to local restaurants, museums, retail outlets, and other attractions. And after years of working to get the park built, he’s excited to be approaching the finish line.

“I know our board has worked very hard to get this thing done over the past three years,” he says. “I know there was a push to build a similar facility in a different location, and that dates back to 2007. The facility is unique, because it is being paid for by the lodging tax. So it is a dedicated revenue source to pay off the bonds, and we will see significant return on our investment.”

The fields will feature state-of-the-art amenities, including Musco Sports Lighting, which helps reduce light pollution. The fields will feature extra-large dugouts, shaded spectator seating, batting cages, wireless scoreboards, and team warm-up areas. The park itself will have a mile-long walking path which will be open to the public, two playgrounds, a spray park, an amphitheater, and a large common area.

The Evansville Sports Complex has already started working with various sanctioning organizations, including the Amateur Softball Association (ASA), the National Softball Association (NSA), the U.S. Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), and several others.

“We have 23 events on our books for 2015, and we had 23 available events that we could book for 2015,” says Warren. “So we feel really good that we are on track. The popularity of this park is being received well. We will have a lot of bells and whistles that other parks don’t have, but the geographical location — centrally located with Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Nashville, and St. Louis — makes it a very popular destination.”

The complex will have a pavilion designed for awards ceremonies, with a video screen that can drop down for use. Sound systems and Wi-Fi towers will allow for other special events at the complex. A large, 1,000-foot-long retention pond would allow the possibility of some water activities.

“We have two separate 2,000-square-foot concession buildings out there,” says Warren. “We have a storage building which will have freezers and walk-in coolers. We’ll be able to maintain food services and resupply concession areas.”

As for the fields, all eight will have dirt or “skin” infields with Bermuda grass in the outfields. The dirt mix for the infields is specially designed for allowing good drainage and better play. The outfield fences are set at 300 feet — large enough to accommodate adult softball — while temporary fencing can be installed to reduce the outfield distance for youth tournaments.

“It is those kind of upgrades that we will have at our complex that should maker it somewhat unique,” says Warren. “Even the dugouts are larger than what you’d normally see. These are things that will not only benefit our community, but will enhance what we do with sports marketing for the travel teams.”

It will take 23 years to pay off the bonds for the $14 million construction project, but Warren says the cost will be well worth it for many years. Along with the weekend tournaments, the fields will host some league games on weekdays to maximize the park’s use.

“It will be great for our community,” he says. “It will be great for our businesses. This is one of those quality of life assets that goes into any community that should be viewed as a tremendous asset. We intend to fully utilize the facility while being able to maintain it at the highest level possible.”

The Evansville Sports Complex will be located at 6800 N. Green River Road, just south of the Goebel Soccer Complex. The intention is to connect the two facilities via a new bridge creating a sports multiplex.

For more on the new Evansville Sports Complex, visit evansvillecvb.org/venues/evansville-sports-complex.

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