Investors pursuing sports complex at Raceway ParkWritten by Tom Konecny | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Plans for what organizers say would be one of the largest and finest outdoor athletic field complexes in the nation project 350,000 visitors each year starting as early as spring 2016.
A group of 20-30 investors — all members of the Toledo Area Soccer Association (TASA) — is pursuing efforts to bring a $7 million, all-artificial turf, 12-field outdoor athletic complex to the site of the former Raceway Park in North Toledo.
The plans for Toledo Fields Sports Complex are designed to lure national and regional sports tournaments, and allow weekday use for local sports clubs and high schools. Initially, soccer, lacrosse and football teams would be their primary targets.
“Anything that can be played on a field, we are looking to bring in,” said Richard Parish, managing partner, who also serves as president of TASA, an adult men’s and women’s soccer association formed in 2006.
Investors have made a land purchase offer to Penn National Gaming, owners of both the Raceway Park property and Hollywood Casino Toledo. Raceway Park closed in 2013, and Penn moved its track license to Dayton so as to not compete with Toledo’s casino.
According to Parish, the property is valued at $5 million, while Parish and his group expect to pay around $1.5 million.
Eric Schippers, senior vice president of public affairs for Penn National Gaming, said there is no agreement and that the two sides are “not even close.” He dismissed the notion that a sale is imminent.
“They have made contact, they had made their pitch, but we’re not close to any kind of an agreement,” Schippers said. “There are many different options on the table, but that is one we’re not pursuing.
“We’re just continuing to look at different opportunities for the site. We certainly want to have the site lined up in a situation that the community is happy with it. It’s certainly not in our interests to have it sit for too long, but we want to make sure it’s done appropriately. There’s not even a timeline that’s clear enough to provide you at this point.”
Despite the uncertainty of the purchase, Parish insists his timeline includes having fields in place by this fall, with tournaments starting next spring. The investors are still actively looking for more investors and project partners.
TASA would be one of the complex’s primary weekday tenants, and would initially manage the project and have on-site offices, Parish said. TASA also intends to have office space available for area youth clubs, including lacrosse and others. They also anticipate reaching out to area schools without their own facilities and offering a partnership that would give them a home field.
Parish said there is no sports complex of this size in Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit or Chicago with all artificial turf fields, which make rainouts and unplayable fields a thing of the past, and are thus more desirable than grass for travel teams. Turf requires less maintenance than real grass, and Parish expects most fields to last about 10 years, with the main fields being replaced every five years.
The next closest facility comparable in size and surface is located in Overland Park, Kansas, he said.
The group’s plans also call for repurposing the 5,000-seat grandstand used at Raceway Park, opening up the possibility for more minor league sports in Toledo, Parish said. He hopes to start conversations soon regarding facility naming rights, and to reach out to Mud Hens/Walleye management about minor league soccer, lacrosse and perhaps football.
Organizers said they would expect to host tournaments about 35 weekends each year, drawing 10,000-12,000 out-of-town visitors to each.
While other Toledo attractions draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, Toledo Fields Sports Complex would be set apart in that nearly all of its weekend users would be from out of town, Parish said, a possibility that has several area hotels watching intently.
Downtown’s Grand Plaza Hotel & Convention Center already gets business from sports teams, including youth soccer and university groups, but they’d happily welcome more.
“There are other tournaments going on around the area parks here, so it’s already a spot where people are coming to participate in soccer tournaments,” said Steffen Sheerin, Grand Plaza director of sales and marketing. “So it sounds to me like something that could really enhance what [the parks are] already doing, and it could attract a whole other segment.”
Sheerin said the Grand Plaza has 240 rooms, and according to Star Data — which produces a monthly hotel occupancy and rate report — there are 7,620 rooms among 80 Toledo area properties, indicating there is plenty of space for 10,000 visitors on any given weekend.
Park Inn, one of Downtown’s other large hotels, sits between Fifth Third Field and the Huntington Center and is equally familiar with sports.
“We do everything from youth to the pros, so we’d certainly welcome this type of facility,” said Haley Gronemeier, director of sales. “Of course, we’d love to see it grow. It would bring a lot of out-of-town people.”
Rich Nachazel, president of the Greater Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau, also known as Destination Toledo, said he believes the proposed Toledo Fields Sports Complex would be a boon for the area.
“If they’re able to reach those numbers, there’s no question it would be the largest number of out-of-towners visiting the region,” Nachazel said.
“That would be a tremendous economic boost to have a facility almost year round pulling out-of-town people in,” Nachazel said. “We’d be happy to participate in any way with a group like that, and let people know that this facility is coming.”
Parish estimated that a small tournament with 50 teams would bring about 80 people per team, for a total of 4,000 visitors. If each person in that group spends an average of $50 while in Toledo, that would translate to $200,000 toward the local economy.
“We’ve already sat down and had an unofficial nod from all the economic development people in Toledo, and they’re pretty excited about having tournaments every single weekend,” Parish said. “Every single weekend there would be a tournament from outside the area.”
Parish said the new facility would truly be an “if you build it, they will come” scenario. The complex would be built to host soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, ultimate frisbee, football, gaelic football and rugby, and management would also consider hosting outdoor concerts.
“We don’t know we can land these tournaments, but we do know people want a quality place that’s easy to get to,” Parish said. “They’re always looking for a place to have tournaments. The No. 1 thing groups want is a great place to play. No. 2 is where it’s located, and No. 3 is a tournament that is well put-together. Toledo is right in the middle of everything.”
A similar sports complex was proposed in 2012 at the former Southwyck Mall site, where a different group of mostly Columbus-based investors had hoped to open outdoor fields, volleyball courts, skating, retails shops and a hotel.
At that time, TASA partnered with the Columbus delegation to serve as a partner and facility manager, and would also have been the primary tenant.
The lead developer held a press conference with the city, but plans for the complex quickly folded after the developer was found to have a precarious development history, which included financial and legal troubles.
TASA has seen considerable growth in its eight years. It started as one team with five players and today has 40 teams and 1,200 participants.
Parish said he believes the proposed complex would benefit Northwest Ohio, as well as make a huge impression on out-of-towners.
“It would be a difference-maker in Toledo,” Parish said.