The Elkhorn Athletic Association broke ground Thursday on a youth sports complex near Valley estimated to eventually cost $52 million. (Courtesy of the Elkhorn Athletic Association)
LINCOLN — A youth sports organization based in Elkhorn broke ground Thursday on a multimillion-dollar, multi-sports complex that officials project will eventually draw more than 1 million visitors a year.
“We’ll be the second-largest visitor attraction in the State of Nebraska when it’s fully operational,” said Bruce O’Neel, the executive director of the Elkhorn Athletic Association.
That, he said, would rank it right behind Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.
On Thursday, the association broke ground on the MD West ONE Sports Complex at 264th and Ida Streets near Valley. The first phase will include eight artificial turf baseball/softball fields, six synthetic turf soccer/football fields and a barrier-free field for kids with adaptive needs. More fields will be added later to the estimated $52 million project.
The project is seeking to capitalize on the lucrative market for regional and national, youth sports tournaments — tournaments that are being held in places like Des Moines and Kansas City now, according to officials.
“A lot of organizers want to put tournaments in Omaha, but we don’t have the right facilities,” said Mark Rath, director of sports for Visit Omaha.
He said the 1 million estimate is valid for the Valley project.
‘Youth sports is just huge’
“Youth sports is just huge,” Rath said.
Currently, the Omaha area is hosting 625 youth baseball teams that are playing in a 13-day, annual Triple Crown Sports tournament that coincides with the College World Series. Families are staying in motels and hotels throughout the area, Rath said.
Nationally, youth sports is estimated to be a $19.2 billion industry, according to Wintergreen Research, as families invest in club teams that travel widely to tournaments.
Those kinds of numbers have attracted the attention of the Nebraska Legislature in recent years, which has passed incentives for construction of youth sports complexes and just recently set aside $115 million to help complete such recreation facilities, as well as expansions to museums and art galleries, that were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
State provided grants
The Elkhorn project just received a $3.8 million grant from the Shovel-Ready Capital Recovery and Investment Act, while another planned youth sports complex, the Nebraska MultiSports Complex at La Vista, received a $12 million grant.
Joe Greco of the Elkhorn Athletic Association said that the initial phase of its project, to be completed in late 2023 or spring of 2024, is projected to host 25 to 30 weekend tournaments a year, generating up to 40,000 hotel room nights a year used by families accompanying their athletic children.
The La Vista project, which broke ground a month ago, is projected to generate 32,000 hotel room nights a year.
The Nebraska Multisports complex, which was a decade in the planning, said in a press release that it expects to have some of its 12 lighted, synthetic turf, multi-purpose fields planned for its initial phase ready this fall.
La Vista project [/subhed]
The La Vista complex, which is near Cabela’s, is forecasting an annual economic impact of $9.9 million, generating $401,000 a year in local sales and lodging taxes.
Is there enough demand for two of these youth sports complexes in the Omaha area?
Both O’Neel and Rath said they believe so.
O’Neel said the La Vista complex appears to be more aimed at soccer tournaments, while the Elkhorn project is more targeted at baseball and softball.
Lisa Roskens, a board member of the La Vista projects, said that project was revised to include baseball and fast-pitch softball fields as well as fields for soccer, football and rugby.
According to O’Neel, the Elkhorn Athletic Association already has a letter of intent from one hotel to build nearby and has talked other lodging facilities and restaurants.
About 100 people attended Thursday’s groundbreaking in Valley, including representatives of chambers of commerce for Fremont, Omaha, Valley and Waterloo.
Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch is a co-founder of the Elkhorn Athletic Association, which had 6,000 kids registered for various sports and cheerleading this year.
The association’s partner in the Valley project is MD West ONE, a provider of orthopedic, sports medicine, neurosurgery and spine care.
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