Fife explores building sports complex

The city of Fife is exploring the regional sports tourism market and the possibility of building a multi-sport venue.

The city is preparing to review a study, completed by California-based company Sportsplex USA, to analyze the risks and benefits of building a city-owned and privately operated athletic complex for community and commercial use.

The $7,500 review is a preliminary step to a full study, which would cost the city about $37,500.

Sports tourism

Aaron Williams, executive director of the Fife-Milton-Edgewood Chamber of Commerce, said exploring sports tourism is part of a larger effort to generate economic activity and establish Fife as a destination city.

City Councilman Glenn Hull said visitors often come to Fife to stay at hotels convenient to Interstate 5, but they spend their money in Tacoma and other cities with large attractions.

A sports complex could change that dynamic, he said.

This isn’t the first time Fife has been down this road.

In 2006, a six-year effort to build a $15 million soccer complex on city-owned land fell through after the city’s youth soccer program failed to raise its share of the costs.

After exploring using the land for retail, parks space or a conference center, the city sold the 54-acre parcel.

Williams said Fife shouldn’t pass up the new proposal.

“This city has a history of missed opportunities,” he said.

The plan is conceptual with little known about cost, location or other details. It outlines a complex with multiple softball and soccer fields, batting cages and an on-site restaurant.

For now, Williams said the city is taking small steps.

“You have to ask those questions knowing you won’t know all the answers,” he said. “That’s the point of the feasibility study.”

Representatives from Sportsplex USA did their early review in April.

Sportsplex’s business model is based on public/private partnerships — a city pays to build the facility and leases it to the company to maintain and operate.

The company operates two athletic complexes under that model — one in Poway, Calif., and another in Santee, Calif., near San Diego. Bill Berghoff, president of Sportsplex, said the company’s facilities generate several million dollars of economic impact in those communities annually.

He said Sportsplex is also pursuing partnerships in Texas, Arizona and other California cities.

In Fife, Berghoff said his company would be responsible for all costs related to running the venue, and the city would receive about 5 percent to 8 percent of gross revenue generated at the complex.

Hull, the Fife councilman, learned about Sportsplex two years ago. He’s an umpire for the Amateur Softball Association and was officiating a large tournament at one of the company’s sites in 2011.

The Puget Sound region has demand for a similar complex, Hull said. But the city acknowledges more information is needed before committing a large sum of money.

Williams said a project like the one proposed could cost the city about $15 million to $20 million.

Hull said the city is intentionally working with an out-of-state company. He said that ensures the study won’t be driven by local business interests.

Williams said the sports complex could work on two levels for the city. It could be used by youth sports programs and residents during the week and expand to regional, national and even international events on weekends.

The latter would mean more money spent at Fife gas stations, hotels and other local businesses, Williams said.

He said it’s a race for Fife to beat other Northwest cities to implement the idea.

“If you do it first and you do it right, you’re the winner,” he said.

Hull said it is too early to identify where the complex would be built and how the city would pay for it.

Berghoff said he sent his company’s final report to the city last week for review. Based on the preliminary findings, the City Council will decide whether to pay for a more detailed feasibility study.

Hull said he hopes the city will move forward with that study so taxpayers can see the benefits of a larger investment.

“Voters aren’t going to approve $20 million in taxes unless they see what they’re going to get for this,” he said.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 kari.plog@ @KariPlog