SPRINGFIELD — With Holyoke announcing a plan to open a multi-million volleyball-focused sports complex, some are asking why the birthplace of basketball isn’t doing the same thing.
Springfield has been studying the creation of a similar complex that would have multiple indoor basketball courts and attract youth basketball stars from across the country for several years. While studies show a sports complex would bring economic development, there are also big challenges to building one.
“We have a committee established and it is meeting to consider how best to advance it as a project,” Timothy Sheehan, director of economic development for Springfield, said a day after Holyoke officials made their announcement.
The committee, which met on Thursday, commissioned an economic analysis in 2021 from Sports Facility Advisory, the same organization that did Holyoke’s study, he said.
The report determined a complex would create economic spinoff benefiting hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues in the city, but estimated the cost of a 190,000-square-foot sports facility that would include at least eight basketball courts at $80 million, he said.
“The study determined the project cannot support debt service on the building. The question is how do you build the capital asset without burdening the project with debt?” Sheehan said.
The study showed rentals would easily support operating costs, including staff salaries and maintenance, but would not earn enough to pay principal and interest of a long-term bond. Adding to the challenge it is the facility would mostly be busy on weekends and would generate less money during the week, he said.
Sports complexes have been growing in popularity across the country. They are mainly used by youth sports teams whose players range in age from 6 to 18 and travel frequently to different locations for tournaments. Springfield could especially capitalize on those since it is the birthplace of basketball and the location of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, officials said.
In a much-touted press conference, Holyoke announced it was doing the same but with a complex mostly devoted to volleyball since it holds the title of the birthplace of that sport and is home to the International Volleyball Hall of Fame.
The smaller city, however, has a partner and financial backer in business owner Cesar Ruiz, who pledged to fund the about $60 million, 140,000-square-foot complex under the USA International Sport Complex Group company.
Springfield would essentially need the same thing or develop a public-private partnership to fund the complex, Sheehan said.
It would also need more than 10 acres of land to have a sufficient amount of parking for athletes, their families and spectators, which isn’t easy to find in any Gateway City. Holyoke has not announced or acquired land for its proposal yet.
“We have two potential sites and they will require at least some level of land acquisition,” Sheehan said.
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