Sports complex study begins

January 6, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

The study of a proposed sports complex for Henry County and Martinsville should be finished in about six months, according to a consultant.

When it is done, the study will show what type of facility is needed to accommodate the types of sports and recreation activities area residents seek, plus capital and operating costs, said Leon E. Younger, president of Indianapolis-based Pros Consulting LLC.

But it will be up to the community -- and maybe the surrounding region -- to get the complex developed, Younger said.

The Harvest Foundation gave the firm a $100,000 grant to do a local "facility evaluation study." The notion for a sports complex was inspired by people asking the foundation to support establishing a place where various sports can be played, Executive Director Harry Cerino has said.

Yet before plans for a complex can be developed, consultants must learn what kind of sports and leisure activities the community is interested in, as well as the "kinds of activities that would prove the best economic value for the area," Younger said.

The complex would be a place used not only by local residents, but people from out of town, such as tournament visitors, he said. For example, out-of-towners would stay in area motels and eat in local restaurants, which would boost the local economy, he said.

Pros Consulting will study sports and recreation activities within 100 miles of Martinsville to figure out what a local facility might offer that is different but sought by area residents, said Younger.

"People will drive that far" to take part in sports and recreation activities, especially special events, he said. "We'll narrow the types of activities that make sense here."

Still, it will be up to the community to decide on the type of facility needed, what activities it will host, whether it will be operated by a public or private entity and how it will be paid for and sustained, the consultant said.

Then again, "it could be one facility, or it could be multiple facilities" that ultimately are proposed, said Henry County Administrator Benny Summerlin, who serves on a steering committee for the study.

It is too early to say how much a sports complex may cost or how long it would take to build it, said Younger.

The steering committee, comprised of 18 community leaders, met for the first time Monday. Younger said the group plans to meet monthly. The next meeting will be Feb. 7, but further dates have not yet been set.

Focus groups to be involved in different aspects of planning for a sports complex are to start meeting next month. About 200 area residents, from people now involved in sports and recreation activities to those "who make the town go" will be invited to take part, Younger said.

Public forums will be scheduled in March, he added.

In the meantime, random area residents will be sent surveys to fill out.

Younger said that the Henry County/Martinsville area's NASCAR heritage may be a major advantage in starting a sports complex locally.

"Everyone knows where Martinsville is on the map because of (stock car) racing," he said.

However, the community will have to decide if it is able to fund a complex on its own, said the consultant. "It may need outside support," therefore becoming a regional partnership, he said.

Public participation in the study will be key to the complex eventually being built, Younger said. When people are engaged in the entire process, there are no surprises in the end, he reasoned. And, people become committed -- such as through financial support -- when they know the plan takes into account their concerns.

"With great vision, money follows," he said. "It's always that way."

Even if it ultimately is determined that a local sports complex is not feasible, through the study, "I think the community will learn a lot about itself and its recreational needs," Younger said.


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