One Loudoun’s proposal to give the county government an 80,000-square-foot indoor sports center has its critics.
The developer behind One Loudoun, Miller & Smith, wants to hand the county the keys to a ready-to-use indoors sports center instead of paying more than $13 million in cash proffers for county capital expenses. In exchange, it would be granted rezoning to build 685 apartment units, 40 townhouses, and a mini warehouse self-storage facility on its 358-acre property. Cooley LLP attorney Colleen Gillis, who represents One Loudoun, said the developer envisions the sports center operating like a business and paying for itself.
But some Loudouners think the county would be better off with money for new infrastructure and services that would be needed to support the additional housing, and Planning Commissioner Eugene Scheel (Catoctin) wondered aloud during a recent public hearing whether the sports center could be profitable in county hands.
Gillis compares One Loudoun’s proposal to a similarly-sized venue in Round Rock, TX, the Round Rock Sports Center, which opened in 2014.
That facility, according to General Manager Chad McKenzie, falls short of paying for itself.
Unlike One Loudoun’s proposal, the city pays debt service on the Round Rock Sports Center, since the city went to the bond market to finance construction of the sports center. But even separating out debt service, McKenzie said the sports center falls $150,000 to $200,000 short of paying for about $1.3 million in annual operating costs with revenues from court rentals, concessions, and fees.
“Facilities like this, the reason why there’s not a ton of them all over the place is simply because they don’t pay for themselves,” McKenzie said. It can be done, he said, but only with some tradeoffs: “Could we make it happen? Absolutely. I don’t think we’d have the number of staff we have. We’d have to make some changes in how we maintain it.”
McKenzie explained that, although the facility may stay busy on weekends and evenings, it has to be maintained 24 hours a day. The gym, for example, has to be temperature- and humidity-controlled at all times, or the million-dollar floor can warp.
“You can make money on these things from 5:30 to 9:30 at night during the school year, and on the weekends, but you have to air condition it at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 10 a.m.,” McKenzie said.
Private investors sometimes run indoor sports centers, he said, but smaller and less well-maintained: “Can you run these? Sure. There’s private investors that do this stuff all the time that build these. They may not be as nice or be as focused on maintaining it as we are.”
But Round Rock loves its sports center nonetheless.
“If you really want to know what it does for the city, you go to the restaurants and the malls and places like that on the weekends, and you see a lot of little uniforms running around,” said Round Rock Mayor Alan McGraw. “That’s essentially what it’s done for the community. It’s an economic development tool.”
Round Rock has billed itself as the “sports capital of Texas,” and McGraw said that’s working out great for the city.
“It was hugely successful, because sports tourism, it’s almost a recession-proof economy,” McGraw said. “Because regardless of what’s going on, people are still going to go traveling with their kids.”
But the city, in McGraw’s words, “realized we’re just completely leaving a whole bunch of cards and dollars on the table” by not having a facility for indoor sports, like volleyball or basketball. To build the indoor sports center, Round Rock’s voters approved an additional two-percent hotel/motel tax, which is still in place, to build the $14.5 million complex. That tax now helps fund the gap in the facility’s budget. The Round Rock Sports Center gives preferential booking on weekends to out-of-town events and tournaments to bring in more tourism dollars.
“When you bring 12-year-old kids and the whole family and they’re staying for the weekend, they’re out shopping and they’re out eating,” McGraw said. “They’re doing exactly what small businesses want them to do.”
Nancy Yawn, director of the Round Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the CVB estimates the center brought in more than 15,000 participants and roughly $4.7 million in direct spending in 2015.
“I can tell you, without having an actual tracking mechanism attached to each person, that you do see them out in their uniforms,” Yawn said. “They’re shopping, they’re eating, they’re going to the attractions.”
Best of all, McGraw said, it’s “pure tourism”—Round Rock Sport Center’s visitors show up, buy hotel rooms, go shopping, and leave, without putting much additional burden on police, firefighters, or public services. Businesses reach out to teams in advance to lure players and their families in with special deals or sponsorships.
The planning commission has forwarded One Loudoun’s application to a work session for further study.