Properly developing Frederick’s Westside Regional Park could help make the city a regional destination for sports tourism, Maryland Sports Commission executive director Terry Hasseltine explained this week to a group gathered to help plan the park’s future.
The city bought the former Hargett Farm, between Butterfly Lane and Interstate 70, in 2009 for development as the Westside Regional Park. The city created the task force in March as a steering committee for development of the 136-acre park site.
The task force adopted a plan based on a master plan created by consulting firm G.E. Fielder & Associates. The plan includes open space for picnic pavilions, walking trails and other community facilities.
The adopted plan also designates much of the park’s space for 11 multi-use rectangular sports fields, elements Hasseltine believes could support growth in Frederick’s tourism economy.
Youth sports, from independent clubs to regional tournaments and meets, are a growing industry, according to Hasseltine, who is also the vice president of the Maryland Stadium Authority. The industry is resilient and actually grew throughout the post-2008 financial recession, he said.
“Kids playing games on fields or in pools is big business,” Hasseltine said. “It’s a multi-billion dollar industry ... Eighty-seven percent of Americans who have kids between 8 and 16 years old invest 82 percent more into their kid’s sports than into their retirement portfolios.”
FC Frederick soccer club and Westside Regional Park Task Force member Bo Eskay agreed. Eskay feels there would be widespread support for a facility that could host large sporting competitions, he said.
“Members of our organization travel to tournaments in Richmond, Virginia Beach, Las Vegas, Florida – places that have facilities and got out ahead on this a little bit,” Eskay said.
Speaking to the committee Thursday, Hasseltine was optimistic that designing the park with enough sports fields to host large tournaments and meets could fill a need in the region and boost Frederick’s tourism economy.
“We are near field-deprived in the state of Maryland,” Hasseltine said. “The fields that we do have in the state are over-utilized. ... If sports tourism is really at the center of this project and the driving cog of this, I think you are touching on a lot of the right pieces.”
The amount of space available for the park, the scope of the adapted park plan — which currently includes an aquatic center — and Frederick’s proximity to major highways would all work in the city’s favor, Hasseltine said.
One potential hurdle Frederick would need to clear to become a sports tourism hub, according to Hasseltine, is the number of available hotel rooms to accommodate families traveling for events. The city would need about 1,400 more hotel rooms or else neighboring communities would make money off events hosted in Frederick, he said.
“The big challenge there is that if you build a facility like this and don’t have the infrastructure to support it, it becomes an irrelevant parcel of land,” Hasseltine said. “Because all you’ll be doing is subsidizing Howard, Montgomery and Washington counties as well as our neighbors to the north in Pennsylvania.”
The estimated cost for developing the park will be $98.5 million, according to previous reports. The city’s fiscal 2018 capital projects budget included $2 million in infrastructure, design and construction funding for the project.
Not all task force members were immediately ready to embrace sports tourism as the future for the park.
“It’s something we’ll consider,” task force member Bob Hicks said.
“I think it’s a little bit early in the process to say what it is going to become,” task force member Melissa Muntz said. “We’re having a lot of exciting discussions, there are a lot of opportunities for how this will move forward.”
Eskay said he would absolutely support going in the direction described by Hasseltine.
“The culture here supports a lot of things like arts and music, but it’s always been the case that Frederick County has a special place in its heart for youth sports,” Eskay said. “Sports are really well woven into the community fabric.”