Grand Island seeking to tap lucrative youth sports market with multi-court facility

Site along I-80 planned for Pinnacle Bank Sports Complex

By: - July 9, 2022 5:45 am

Proposed design of the Pinnacle Bank Sports Complex being planned in Grand Island, Nebraska. (Courtesy of Tri-Cities Sports Complex)

GRAND ISLAND — This central Nebraska city is hoping to join the effort to attract regional, youth sports tournaments and the local spending on motels and meals that comes with it.

The 160,000-square-foot Pinnacle Bank Sports Complex is being planned for a site just off Interstate 80 at the U.S. Highway 281 interchange. The first phase will feature six indoor courts for basketball and volleyball and batting cages for baseball, though it’s being designed with expansion in mind.

About $10 million has been raised locally, with another $10 million being sought statewide, according to Johnny Dorn, vice president of Cresa, a real estate firm working on the project, who is a former University of Nebraska-Lincoln baseball player.

Youth sports market

The goal of the sports complex is to attract regional tournaments to Grand Island and tap into a national market for youth sports that has grown to a $19 billion-a-year industry.

“Each time a parent has to travel for their child’s sporting event or practice, that money leaves Hall County,” said Tino Martinez, president of the board of the nonprofit Pinnacle Bank Sports Complex.

“We want to invest here in Hall County to keep the kids and the money locally,” said Martinez, who also coaches basketball at Grand Island Central Catholic High School.

A state-of-the-art training center for local athletes would also allow parents in the area to avoid long drives to volleyball and basketball training centers in Lincoln, according to Kristin Maser, who drove two daughters back and- forth to the Capital City for club volleyball.

“We put a lot of miles on our car over the last eight years,” Maser said. “It would just be nice if the kids from Grand Island would have the opportunity to have really good training and play locally here.”

The Grand Island facility could also be used for dance, wrestling, cheerleading, yoga/exercise classes and other community events.

‘Shovel ready’ funds

Two large, outdoor complexes for youth sports tournaments have broken ground recently in the Omaha area.

The Nebraska Multi-Sports Complex in La Vista and the MD West ONE Sports Complex in Valley were major recipients recently of state grants through the state’s “shovel-ready” program designed to help projects by nonprofit organizations disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding for the program came from the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

The La Vista project received $12.7 million, while the Valley complex got $3.8 million. A field house planned by the Columbus Community Hospital also got $12.7 million.

That compares to just under $116,000 for the Grand Island sports center, forcing backers there to explore other sources of funding.

Recently, Grand Island officials, including Mayor Roger Steele, toured the UBT Sports Complex in Elkhorn and the Iowa West Field House in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to better understand what works and what doesn’t in such facilities.

Dorn said they learned that while improving practice and tournament facilities for local youth athletes is critical, hosting multi-team, regional tournaments is what brings greater revenue.

Economic impact

According to Dave Taylor of the Grand Island Area Economic Development, the Pinnacle Bank Sports Complex has the potential to generate $4 million to $6 million per year in new visitor spending, which includes overnight stays and meals.

The mayor said the sports complex will also be an ideal “new gateway development” for Grand Island, providing a stronger link between I-80 and the city of 51,000.

Dorn said that it’s possible that ground could be broken for the facility yet this year, but spring 2023 is probably more realistic. He said no state or county funds are being sought for the project but said it is possible that sales taxes generated by new development in the immediate area of the Sports Complex could be tapped to help finance the facility.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.