Like many cities in recent years, Eudora has been exploring plans for its own sports tourism initiative.
In October, the City Commission viewed a presentation for a $40 million sports and entertainment arena, with potential retail spaces, restaurants, apartments, a brewery and a hotel surrounding it.
Officials said Virginia-based Eastern Sports Management would fund and maintain the arena while the city was responsible for construction and any renovations made to the facility.
The Eudora Times investigated how these arenas work in other cities with similar partnerships with Eastern Sports Management by reaching out to officials in Hampton, Virginia, and Virginia Beach.
Repeated attempts to reach Virginia Beach officials for comment, including Mayor Robert Dyer, Executive Assistant to the Mayor Deanna Parrish, and Convention and Visitors Bureau Director of Public Relations Erin Goldmeier, were not returned.
However, The Times did gain insight from Hampton officials, Eastern Sports Management and Interim City Manager Kevyn Gero on what Eudora may expect from its own facility.
Lessons from Hampton, VA
The Hampton Aquaplex is expected to have an economic impact of about $9 million in the city of 138,000 people this year, said Mary Fugere, director of the Hampton Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The $30 million facility has hosted high school swim meets almost every weekend since it opened in October, Hampton City Manager Mary Bunting said. Other events include National Junior Olympics artistic swimming events, and a statewide swimming and dive invitational meet.
Bunting said sports tourism seems to be a reliable economic boost.
“There's been a lot of studies that show that it's more recession proof than other kinds of travel spending. And we've certainly found that to be the case in Hampton,” she said.
As for activities for the community, Bunting said the aquaplex offers aerobics classes and an outdoor water park.
A learn-to-swim program is also offered for second graders as part of the city’s elementary physical education curriculum.
“Because we’re surrounded by water, drowning is one of the top reasons for death in young people,” said Terri Vander Vennet, director of the Hampton Coliseum and Hampton Arts Commission. “So we wanted to bring them the opportunity to learn to get in the water and not be afraid and to give them some life skills to handle themselves in the water. And so we brought in ESM [Eastern Sports Management], and they answered and met all of our goals.”
Vander Vennet said Eastern Sports Management handles the day-to-day operations of the Hampton Aquaplex. Vander Vennet said this includes maintaining the facility, hiring and training staff members, programming events and renting out the facility.
The company also works with the city to advertise the aquaplex, bring in swim meets and set rates, she said.
“So far, they’ve been great to work with,” Vander Vennet said. “We’ve only been working together in operation for about three months, but it’s been pretty wrinkle free.”
Construction of the facility wasn’t without controversy, however, according to Old Dominion University’s 23rd annual State of the Region Report released in October.
The report notes “a few years of packed council meetings with passionate proponents and opponents.”
“It was a hard sell for the 50% of the community that does not feel connected to swimming. It took six years of conversation to get it across the finish line,” Bunting said in a quote in the report.
Vander Vennet said Eudora city officials just need to be open with Eastern Sports Management in order to achieve their goals for growth.
“We needed it to be accessible and affordable to the community, but it also needs to meet the mission of generating a profit,” Vander Vennet said about the goals for the Hampton Aquaplex. “We had great conversations in the negotiating process. They were very open and shared their experience. We never felt like they were holding back. We felt it was a true dialogue, and they understood our mission goals, and they bought into them and we were both on the same page.”
About Eastern Sports Management
Eastern Sports Management manages nine facilities: seven in Virginia and Pennsylvania, one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and one in Memphis.
The company manages facilities on behalf of private owners, has facilities that it owns and manages itself, and engages in public/private partnerships with cities like Hampton.
Andy Ballard, vice president of Eastern Sports Management, said the company offers a diverse range of sporting events that take place at its facilities.
“It depends on the size of the space, but there’s really no limit to the space on what you can do,” he said. “So even if we wanted to do a professional basketball game, we could easily bring in flooring that would allow that.”
Ballard said youth and amateur sports events are most common, as well as some college events.
Ballard said the company was attracted to Eudora because of the need for a high economic impact generator and the partnership they could form with the leadership in Eudora.
“What’s attractive is when we can come into a community, we can explore, we can express to them, ‘This is how it works, and how and where we’ve had success,’” Ballard said. “And we partner with them with an understanding of what their citizens want out of the project. So, it doesn’t always work out where we come in and do it, but you got to be able to talk honestly and openly of what your goals are and what the challenges are and collaborate to get them. And that’s really what’s happened in Eudora. It’s been a very collaborative process.”
Interim City Manager Kevyn Gero said the city has been working with the business management company Vieste LLC, which has a lot of experience working with Eastern Sports Management.
“They’re pretty confident that their model of experience in the market, especially for youth sports, is strong, and that they can come up with programming that will fit the needs of this area,” Gero said.
Updates on Eudora’s sports arena
Construction of the arena could begin in mid-2024 and would be located south of K-10.
“This type of project is really driven by the need to diversify the tax base,” Gero said. “I think the City Commission also likes this type of economic development initiative over other types because there will be other community amenities that will come along with more recreational opportunities and some retail development along the south side of K-10.”
Gero said the project is important for continued growth in Eudora.
“Some of our older areas of town don’t quite have the infrastructure that the newer areas of town have,” Gero said. “For instance, sidewalks and stormwater. So on those infrastructure needs, we need to increase our revenues, and we want to keep property taxes stable. So, a project like this would allow us to, hopefully, eventually capture that revenue and apply it to other areas across the community.”
Ballard said Eastern Sports Management will operate and maintain the building at the company’s own risk, meaning the company would cover operating costs so long as the arena is constructed to allow for various revenue streams.
Because of this responsibility, Ballard said there are contingencies in place that Eudora has to meet in order to accept this authority.
Ballard said he thinks the arena will be exactly what Eudora is looking for in terms of being a large economic impact driver.
“There’s a huge range,” Ballard said about the economic impact generated by facilities managed by Eastern Sports Management. “The estimated economic impact of the Virginia Beach Sports Center in the first two years that it was open was over $130 million.”
The size of the building is a big factor in how much revenue an arena can generate, Ballard said.
According to a presentation given in October at a City Commission meeting, the Eudora sports arena is expected to encompass 167,000 square feet and seat 5,000 people. Events would include basketball and volleyball tournaments, MMA events as well as concerts and theater performances.
There will be a lot of change in the coming years for Eudora with the growth expected from the sports arena and Panasonic’s eventual arrival. But, Ballard said he thinks all this growth won’t affect the city’s small town feel.
“If you can put the location of a place that allows people to access your community, without disturbing the core of the community, it’s really not hard,” Ballard said. “And for me personally, I feel like the church is the people in the church, not the building. So, you know, the hometown feel is going to be the people more than a building that we build on the outskirts of town.”
What further questions do you have about the sports arena? Reach reporter Jack Denebeim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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