Tourism officials tout sport complex proposal for Montgomery County

Mike Bowman, CEO of Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board, opens a Valley Forge Sports presentation on a proposed sports facility in Montgomery County at Oaks Center Ice Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017.
Mike Bowman, CEO of Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board, opens a Valley Forge Sports presentation on a proposed sports facility in Montgomery County at Oaks Center Ice Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. Gary Puleo — digital first media

UPPER PROVIDENCE>> “Build it and they will come” was the burning imperative that Valley Forge Sports conveyed to a diverse crowd of developers, sports executives and hospitality industry folks at Oaks Center Ice Thursday.

But this was no whimsical field of dreams that the sports-oriented arm of Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board was championing, and there were ample market analytics to prove it.

Dressed in team jerseys emblazoned with the Valley Forge Sports logo and addressing the crowd from out on the rink, tourism board CEO Mike Bowman and his staff revealed the findings of an exhaustive study done by Sports Facility Advisors that suggested Montgomery County would benefit in numerous ways by the presence of a sprawling sports complex.

“We’re here to talk about a state-of-the-art, tournament-ready sports complex for Montgomery County and the enormous economic driver and job creator it will be,” Bowman said. “We know a new sports complex will enable our organization to attract the best players in youth basketball, soccer, lacrosse, weight lifting, archery, cheerleading, competitive dance and even pickleball to Montgomery County.”


Bowman then called for a moment of silence to honor 18-year-old Nick Bond, a Springfield Township High School senior and the captain of the Wissahickon Warriors, who passed away earlier in the month.

With Valley Forge being known as a place of both struggle and triumph, Bowman declared it a fitting setting for competitive sports.

“But, as we all know, the sports business is so much more than points that end up on a scoreboard,” he said. “The new sports facility that we are discussing today will raise the general quality of life for both residents and visitors. It will supply economic impact. It will create sustainable job growth. It will benefit every resident of this county.”

Lisa Karl, the tourism and convention board’s vice president of sales, pointed out that sports tourism is a recession-proof industry, with studies showing that parents will forego their own leisure-time desires so that their kids may participate in sports.

“Given our sales and marketing efforts today, sports represent 54 percent of group business booked into Montgomery County hotels, up 33 percent over last year,” Karl noted, adding that the economic impact of tournaments spills over to other businesses and attractions, such as restaurants, retail, historical sites and even parks and trails.

Jennifer Shipman, director of sales for DoubleTree by Hilton Valley Forge in King of Prussia, said that without sports-related business the hotel would suffer, especially on weekends.

“We notice that grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and even the family dog are joining the players for their tournaments (and) turning the weekend of competition into a mini vacation.”

Andy Carl, the tourism and convention board’s sports sales manager, elaborated on the SFA research, after which guests were treated to a lunch of pulled pork and macaroni and cheese provided by Mission BBQ of King of Prussia.

“We reached out to them because we saw a trend in the sports business that did not fit the facility inventory that we currently had in the county,” Carl noted. “The conclusion wasn’t just conjecture on our part. We tracked lost business and estimated it to be more than $100 million in economic impact over the past five years.”

An example Carl used to flesh out his point was a bid Valley Forge Sports made in 2015 on the U.S. Lacrosse National Championships, an event projected to bring 2,000 kids and their families to Montgomery County.

“We were named one of three finalists,” he said. “But the lack of one main facility, rather than the split facility we were proposing, led to the loss of $1.8 million in economic impact, along with the notoriety of hosting a U.S. Olympic national governing body championship. We realized quickly that in this business, if you’re not moving forward you’re moving backward.”

SFA has served over 600 communities and developed and managed more than $5 billion in facility assets, Carl said.

“Through the process, they visited Montgomery County numerous times, meeting with our organizations and key principles from our office,” he said. “They toured existing facilities in the county, met with key stakeholders – hoteliers, event organizers, current facility owners and developers.

By the time SFA completed its feasibility study nearly a year ago, its advice to the tourism agency boiled down to this: find the land, clear the land and build the complex. The optimal scenario called for 92 acres with 12 multipurpose fields and a massive indoor court space suitable for multiple sports like volleyball and basketball.

“SFA purposefully built flexibility into its recommendations so that developers can build additional space for capacity to meet a growing sports industry or other market drivers,” Carl said.

“When we look up at the scoreboard in five years, it will say the following: $100 million in economic impact to the county … 290,000 hotel rooms will be filled by this complex in the first five years of its operation. The facility will create jobs, putting Montgomery County residents to work in the complex, nearby hotels, restaurants, retail operations and other service providers. We recognize that a project of this magnitude is a significant investment,” Carl added, “but it brings phenomenal return.