SportsBiz: Rocky Mountain Sports Park, a dream made of diamonds

Proposed youth sports initiative in Windsor, Colo. capitalizes on current trends

Timing is everything in baseball. Even the sweetest of swings is worthless if the batter can't produce a split-second convergence of bat barrel and oncoming fastball.

The good news for a proposed youth sports initiative in northern Colorado is that the moment may be ripe to capitalize on current trend lines. The Rocky Mountain Sports Park, a proposed $225 million development shaped around youth baseball/softball and other sports fields, is stepping up to the plate at a time when kids are taking the field, and spending tied to destination tournaments is rising. 

After several consecutive years of decline, participation in organized baseball looks to be staging a comeback. A May 2017 national survey from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association found participation in baseball and soft-pitch softball rose 8 percent from 2015 to 2016, reversing what had seemed to be an ominous multi-year downward trend blamed on everything from parental exhaustion to video games. Some credit for the turnaround may be due to Major League Baseball’s “Play Ball” initiative, which encourages kids to put down the gamepad and pick up the bat.

More to the point for the planned complex, there’s solid growth on the travel/tournament side. The National Association of Sports Commissioners, which represents sports facilities owners, says visitor spending tied to U.S. sports events produced $9.4 billion in revenue for 2015, the latest year for which research is available. That was up 5 percent from 2014, and up nearly 14 percent from 2012.

Translation: More families are spending more money to haul their players to faraway venues like the 22-field Dreams Park in Cooperstown, N.Y.  Typically, these events bring participants to town for a week or more at a time, meaning there’s a big opportunity for hotels, restaurants and tourism venues to profit.

It’s in this world that RMSP hopes to become the signature player, with ambitions to build and operate a sprawling complex including 64 sports fields and a 10,000-seat stadium flanked by dormitories and corporate offices. If it gets built as planned, the complex will be the largest of its kind in the U.S. when it’s fully completed by 2019.

The plan presents a heady vision for the 25,000-resident city of Windsor, where the 413-acre complex is slated to be built at the corner of Highway 257 and Harmony Road.

“This is better than anything I’ve ever been involved with,” says the city’s economic development director, Stacy Johnson. Johnson is a veteran development professional who has worked on big-ticket projects including the city of Lakewood’s redevelopment of the Denver Federal Center and the Belmar retail/residential complex. But she says the combination of the project’s economic contribution and its positive impact on kids makes the initiative special. “This one really tugs at my heartstrings,” Johnson says.

Despite the “Field of Dreams”-style allure, the temptation here is to be skeptical. A $225 million investment represents a huge financial commitment for youth sports. It’s nearly $100 million more than what Kroenke Sports and Commerce City spent in 2005-2006 to build Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, home to the Colorado Rapids Major League Soccer team and its adjacent complement of 24 youth soccer fields. And it tops the $200 million the Colorado Rockies will pour into Coors Field over the next 30 years for large-scale capital improvements.

For the moment, mum’s the word on who’s backing the privately funded project. Johnson knows but can’t say anything because of non-disclosure restrictions. “At this magnitude, it’s only natural to say, ‘Wow, how is this going to make it?’” she says. “But I’ve seen their business plan and I know who their investors are. I’m not concerned.”

For now, the public faces of RMSP include president Mike Billadeau, a Windsor resident and longtime youth sports figure, along with vice president Ryan Spilboroughs, the Root Sports broadcaster and former Rockies outfielder. For our money, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the financial backing come from an existing spectator-sports organization. The similarity to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, backed by magnate Stan Kroenke, is obvious, but there’s no indication of any pairing.

 Regardless of who the mystery backers are, the initiative stands out for sheer bravado. Maybe this time, the adage from the iconic movie will prove to be true: If you build it, they really will come. But not to Iowa. To Windsor.

Categories: Industry Trends, Travel, Tourism & Recreation