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Soccer Park in Arizona Could Raise Millions

Supporters Say Facility Would Generate $28 Mill to Local Economy

March 18, 2009

Soccer enthusiasts in Tucson, Arizona are promoting the idea of transforming a horse racing track into a multimillion dollar athletic park that could generate almost $28 million of new revenue from soccer tournaments, according to supporters.

Supporters, using the Tucson-based Fort Lowell Shootout as a benchmark, say replacing historic Rillito Park with an expansive athletic park that hosted four annual soccer tournaments would bring in at least $7.5 million to the local economy. They also cited the possibility of hosting a regional youth soccer event that would bring in another $20 million.

“To have a tournament facility, particularly one that would be available to be used for a regional and national tournament that happen in June could be a huge revenue source for the city of Tucson in our slowest time of year,” Lisa Balcer, president of the Arizona Rush soccer club, told AZBiz.com.

The proposal calls for an 18-field, 88-acre complex to be built over the race track with construction cost estimates somewhere between $12 million and $18 million. But it has been met with opposition as equestrians say track is the birthplace of quarter horse racing.

Rillito Race Track
Soccer supporters want to build a facility over the Rillito Race Track. (Nicholas Smith/AZBiz.com)

“It will also provide greatly needed practice space for an area of town that has almost no park space,” Gary Davidson, who chairs the parks and recreation subcommittee of the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee, told AZBiz.

Putting in the facility would boost Tucson’s park acreage per population figure, something it trails the national average by about 30 percent, as well as increases tourism to the area, according to AZBiz.com.

“Las Vegas found a few years ago that (youth sports) was definitely a market that they’ve been tapping into,” Davidson said. “Back when my son was involved in soccer, really Tucson teams never went to Vegas; it just wasn’t a sight. And now they’re going all the time to tournaments out there because they built a facility.”

Tucson already plays host to the Fort Lowell Shootout in January each year, which is second only to the gem and mineral show in terms of hotel occupancy, according to tournament scheduling coordinator Curt Cannon.

The Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the shootout brings about $4.2 million to the local economy each year. Some of that depends on the numbers of teams participating.

This year’s shootout attracted 290 teams, slightly fewer than previous years likely due to the economy.

The shootout and four other Tucson youth tournaments bring in about $7.5 million annually for the local economy, Pima County District 1 Parks Commissioner Stephanie Maben told the website. This figure does not include the state or national cup tournaments held here each spring.

The major money would come through hosting youth soccer’s western regional tournament, which is held in a different city each year.

“Basically you’re talking about entire amounts of this tournaments are coming from out of town, rental cars, airfare, hotels, meals for a full week if not longer,” Maben said. “This is something that we have been asked to host but we have not been able to because we don’t have an 18-field complex.”

She found that holding the June regional in Tucson would generate $20.6 million for the local economy and draw hundreds of teams, 4,500 players and 10,000 spectators from states like California, Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming.

“With the youth you’re getting the whole family, you’re getting whatever player, both parents, siblings; everybody has to eat and drink and be entertained,” Balcer said.

Even when a tournament isn’t in session, the centrally-located park would be a center for practice while still generating economic dollars.

The Rillito track brings in about $3.3 million each year to the local economy, according to a University of Arizona estimate.





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