Youth sports is big business and that business is growing. According to numbers recently published by financial planning firm Mass Mutual, money spent on youth sports tournaments jumped to $10.5 billion in 2016. That was an increase of 26% over a four-year period. With that national growth comes local opportunities.
“This is the fastest-growing sector of the American tourism market,” Dan Buck told West Newsmagazine. “More families are spending more time and money on their children’s sports than on destination vacations. Let’s give them a vacation.”
Buck is the managing partner for Big Sports Properties, the lead developer of a new sports complex/resort at the site of the former St. Louis Mills outlet mall. The 160-acre POWERplex facility intends to host more than 180 major sports tournaments and special events per year. But Buck is quick to point out the Hazelwood-based campus is not going to be just another sports facility.
“Our goal is to provide more services and amenities that will truly make their experience a vacation and not just a tournament,” he said.
Buck said in the near future, St. Louis could become one of the nation’s premiere destinations for youth sporting events.
“What the city and Big Sports Properties have achieved in a very short time frame for all the remaining landowners is nothing short of miraculous,” said Lloyd Ney, co-owner and operator of the Ice Zone hockey rink that opened as a key property when the outlet mall debuted. “We were facing a disaster scenario where we would not be able to fulfill our mission of growing youth ice sports and now we get to be a part of a thriving, new sports destination campus.”
St. Louis County Council member Mark Harder [R – District 7] believes the facilities is a big win for the county. He pointed out after developers failed to secure support to locate POWERplex in Chesterfield, St. Charles County made a strong push for Big Sports Properties to put the facilities there.
“We’re glad they stayed in St. Louis County,” Harder said.
He said he suggested to Buck and the rest of Big Sports Properties that the group consider the St. Louis Mills site. The property, he said, was “ripe for development for the right person and the right project.”
“This is something we’ve been looking for and wanting in the county for a long time,” Harder said.
Several other existing tenants at the St. Louis Mills will get to stay and be a part of POWERplex as well.
Cabela’s, a North American-based outdoor retailer, has three years left on its lease and has expressed excitement about being a part of the future complex according to the official press release. Hope Church, another major tenant currently on the property, also is expected to stay and could be a good resource for families seeking a place of worship on Sundays between games according to the same release.
Hazelwood Mayor Matt Robinson praised the work that was done behind the scenes to bring the different parties together and realize the greater vision.
“You have to applaud the resilience and dedication of all involved,” Robinson said. “Our city officials, Big Sports Properties, the banks, the bondholders, the county and Explore St. Louis, the corporate supporters – everyone involved in this vision has overcome a lot of hurdles in order to get us to the finish line.”
Buck admits that its been a long journey to this point with the vision for a multi-sport facility and family resort encountering many obstacles along the way. But he’s also quick to point out that patience and perseverance have paid off with an opportunity in the former St. Louis Mills property that is better than what you could build from scratch.
Big Sports Properties got a boost from the involvement of NBA All-Star and St. Louis native Bradley Beal. A current member of the NBA’s Washington Wizards, Beal expressed his excitement for the project at a news conference earlier this month.
“This is something that doesn’t just transform sports in our region. This place will change lives and impact kids for decades to come. I’ve never been more excited to make a dream become a reality,” Beal said.
Beal’s involvement will bring some high powered basketball to the courts of POWERplex right away. The Bradley Beal Elite, a competitive team for young men 17 and under, will be based out of the facility. The BBE play in a summer league with teams from around the country showcasing some of the best prep talent in the United States.
The league is run by sports giant Nike and the possibility of future league tournaments here in St. Louis seems likely with the opening of POWERplex. But Buck was quick to point out it’s not just Beal’s fame, money or his elite basketball squad that Beal is bringing to the project.
“Bradley was a great fit for our ownership group on multiple fronts,” Buck said. “He better than anybody knows the impact that sports can have on a young life. How it can provide so much more than just great competition … when we met with Bradley it was clear he didn’t just want an investment or to be a part of a sport complex. His heart is all about transforming lives.”
One of the major tasks now for Big Sports Properties will be identifying future lodging tenants. Cissell Mueller Company, a commercial real estate broker, is working to fullfil this need.
“An independent expert in youth sports tourism, estimates this campus will generate up to 270,000 hotel room bookings per year,” said Duane Mueller, partner in Cissell Mueller. “We’re getting a lot of interest from hoteliers who understand this booming sports tourism industry, a key factor being that it is just eight minutes from Lambert Airport and the flat, shovel-ready lots located on such a dynamic, fun and entertainment driven campus.”
Mueller also is looking to add as many as six new restaurants to the campus to provide a wide range of dining options for families.
All of this begs the question as to whether a sports complex can really support that many new hotels and restaurants. The risks of feast or famine associated with the peak and offseason ebb and flow of business can be critical to sports-based tourism.
Buck claims his group has considered that risk and they don’t believe POWERplex will fall victim to offseason pitfalls.
“That’s the beauty of this campus, that there really is not an offseason. We have peak and ultra peak times because of the diversity of sports we offer.” Buck said. “Everything we’re designing is with that in mind – about how every venue on our sports campus can be used for multiple sports so we can provide 52 weeks of sports tourism.”
POWERplex is not intended to be a detriment to the already existing athletic fields and facilities in the area. In fact, Buck emphasized that he’s already had several conversations with the management of many of those facilities, including Lou Fusz, and that the dialogue is about partnership and cooperation not competition.
“We want to make the [Route] 141 corridor and five-mile radius [into] a youth sports haven that can’t be matched by any other city in the midwest,” Buck said.
If estimates from the developers hold up, the area will see an influx of 2.5 to 2.9 million new visitors a year, resulting in additional tax revenue for St. Louis County.
“Each one of those unique visitors will be spending a lot of money on a weekend outing,” Harder said. “That’s an untapped market [for St. Louis County].”
Buck hinted that announcements on additional partners, specifically from the hospitality industry, could be coming soon and indicated that there has been growing national interest in what Big Sports Industries is doing with POWERplex.
Buck promises the best is still to come.
“What we’ll open with in 2020 won’t be what we have in 2024. This campus will continue to grow and expand as we identify what families want,” he said.