Consultant: Sports complex would draw tournaments to Groton

Groton — Groton could draw in an additional $1.8 million to $4.9 million in visitor spending if it built a recreation complex that could host sports tournaments, consultants told the Town Council this week.

The town asked in 2014 for an assessment of Groton’s current athletic fields, including the number and condition of fields, the demand for those fields and how the town could best meet its unmet needs. Consultants Camoin Associates and Kent + Frost presented their findings on Tuesday, along with a report about the economic impact of a potential sports complex.

The consultants originally had recommended building a recreation complex on the Merritt property adjacent to Robert E. Fitch High School. But since voters approved a school construction referendum that includes building a new middle school on the Merritt property, it no longer is available.

Still, the consultants said investing in a sports complex that groups fields together, rather than building additional athletic fields in scattered places across town, would give Groton the greatest economic benefit.

Children attending sports tournaments typically arrive with at least two other people, who then spend money on food, lodging and transportation, the report by Camoin Associates said. It estimated a sports complex would draw in 17,000 to 45,000 visitors annually and create 30 to 80 jobs.

Tournament promoters also look toward familiar places when booking fields, said Chad Frost, a principal with Kent + Frost.

“Mystic is to some degree a known destination,” Frost said. “And there’s this new thing within tournament play that tournaments are going to places where people know a little bit about it. Maybe they’ve never been there, but they’ve at least heard of it. Mystic has got that name brand to it.”

The data was based on a sports complex with four regulation-sized rectangular fields. Such a complex could host as many as one major tournament with 150 teams, three large tournaments with 100 teams and three smaller tournaments of 50 teams, or as few as one large tournament and three smaller tournaments, the report said. The consultants said it would take some time to become known.

But youth sports are a generator of substantial income, said Michael N’dolo, vice president of Camoin. Towns that host tournaments are “branded as a destination” and exposed to people who often return to visit once they’ve discovered the town, he said.

Town Councilor Harry Watson said he has attended tournaments and they do draw visitors. If a complex in Groton hosts tournaments, the visitors "are going to go out to dinner every night when they’re here and fill the Marriott,” he said.

But councilors also said Groton can’t afford to build such a complex, earlier estimated to cost $12 million.

Frost offered an alternative: When the district is building its new schools, consider clustering fields together so they can serve two purposes. For example, if Sutton Park were reconfigured to provide three ballfields instead of two, and two ballfields were built at the new middle school instead of one, the town would have six baseball fields (including the field at Fitch High School) within walking distance and could host a tournament and reap the financial benefits, he said.

Mayor Bruce Flax also questioned whether the town could sell a property to a private developer to build a sports complex, so the town could benefit from the additional taxes but not have to build the complex.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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