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Backers: Sports complexes would strengthen midstate economy

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From basketball and wrestling championships to soccer, softball, baseball and volleyball tournaments, Central Pennsylvania's tourism agencies and special event venues have applied the full-court press to attract youth sporting events.

Big events equate to families and visitors spending, which means huge dollar signs for the local economy. The Harrisburg-Hershey Region and Lancaster County already rank near the top in total visitor spending, according to a 2010 state economic impact study.

With the proximity to major highways and draw from key regional attractions such as Hersheypark and Amish country in Lancaster County, all have been successful at tapping into the cash cow that is youth sports.

Other entities have taken notice and are getting into the act with plans and preliminary ideas to build large-scale, year-round multisport complexes that could host tournaments and championship events for teams across the Northeast.

The argument from nonprofit groups such as the Mid State Alliance in Dauphin County has been that offseason training facilities for club organizations are hard to come by and that many sport-specific venues exist to serve municipal teams and their respective leagues.

Since last fall, the Mid State Alliance, or MSA, has been exploring the idea of bringing a premier sportsplex to the county that would create multiple top-notch fields for a plethora of sports so that it could host out-of-town tournaments. That type of facility also would give local teams another option to train or play league games and give the community more recreational space.

"Why do we have to go to them?" asked Steve Mizak, president of the Mid State Alliance, referring to other sports complexes across the country.

With $70,000 in gaming grant support from Dauphin County, the nonprofit hired Washington, D.C.-based Brailsford & Dunlavey, a facility-planning and program-management company, to conduct a feasibility study.

The study is ongoing and could wrap up this summer or fall, officials said. That leaves a location up in the air, along with an actual plan and budget.

It's also unclear whether the facility, which could include indoor and outdoor playing surfaces, with turf and lighting options, will be financed through public or private dollars, Mizak said. The organization's stated preference has been to see the project funded through a public-private partnership.

MSA officials said they realize other facilities in the area serve multiple sports, but said they believe the population growth in Central Pennsylvania and the ability to cater to different crowds will support their large-scale effort.

For example, Shadow Lawn Enterprises expects to open in January what could be the largest indoor sports complex in North America when it unveils Spooky Nook Sports at a former distribution center on Spooky Nook Road in East Hempfield Township.

The multimillion-dollar development, which included the $11.3 million acquisition of the 600,000-square-foot building last year, will be home to basketball, volleyball and tennis courts, a rock-climbing wall, a weight room, aerobics and yoga training areas, an area for boxing, space for indoor field hockey and futsal, and pitching and batting cages.

There also will be a restaurant, a smoothie bar and a large retail presence, as well as on-site orthopedics.

The outside plan includes fields for baseball, field hockey, football, lacrosse, rugby and soccer, as well as a large obstacle course, according to Shadow Lawn.

The Spooky Nook site is 65 acres. The project is backed by Sam Beiler, former chairman and CEO of Auntie Anne's Inc.

MSA officials have been in contact and the goal is not to put anyone out of business, Mizak said. He said he views the potential Dauphin County project as complementary to the Lancaster County effort.

"Their focus is more family-fun center (and indoor activities)," he said.

The Dauphin County concept likely would cater more to outdoor sports but could incorporate retail components and other entertainment options.

"If it's not on this site, is there something nearby that we could work with to feed people there?" Mizak said.

Spooky Nook marketing director Ben Halvorsen said he wanted to know more about the plan in Dauphin County before commenting on how the facilities could work in concert with one another.

Direct competition could be minimized if the focus remains different, said Gregg Cook, sports marketing manager for the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau.

The midstate's relative location and attractions easily help draw people from many of the surrounding states, he said, especially tournament organizers.

"From a tournament standpoint, multiple fields at one location is a huge perk," Cook said.

The bureau would prefer to see a new facility exist solely for large tournaments and other championship events, he said.

"I think the reality of the economics would be that they run tournaments and fill holes by renting the facility to existing leagues and teams for practices or for league games," Cook said. "We need to be able to have facilities available to host out-of-town tournaments."

A premier sports venue that could host tournaments every weekend and attract outside teams would have a significant impact on the local economy.

"That economic impact number (would be) gigantic," he said.

An ideal area for the Dauphin County facility might be around Eisenhower Boulevard, where there are a number of hotel properties of all amenity levels, Cook said. Close proximity to the airport and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, as well as travel time between Hershey and Harrisburg, are other factors to consider, he said.

Central Pa. becoming sports hotbed

Spooky Nook Sports is slated to open in January in a former distribution center at 2913 Spooky Nook Road in East Hempfield Township, Lancaster County.

The 65-acre site is expected to play host to indoor and outdoor sports as well as family and teambuilding activities.

A feasibility study for what could be a premier multisport complex in Dauphin County is ongoing. The concept includes the construction of both indoor and outdoor fields, as well as nature trails, picnic areas and open space for public use.

A location has not yet been chosen.

Also on this map are some of the other multisport complexes in the area.

1. Spooky Nook Sports

2 and 3. Twin Ponds: Hosts indoor training and competition for baseball, field hockey, figure skating, ice hockey, lacrosse and soccer.

4. Sports City Harrisburg: Hosts indoor training and competition for basketball, dodgeball, field hockey, flag football, lacrosse, soccer and volleyball.

5. In The Net: Hosts indoor and outdoor training and competition for baseball, field hockey, football, lacrosse, soccer, softball and ultimate Frisbee.

6. Lanco Fieldhouse: Hosts indoor training and competition for baseball, dodgeball, field hockey, flag football and soccer.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin and Cumberland counties. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal.

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