It’s been over 30 years since the Owensboro Softball Complex at Jack C. Fisher Park has undergone any major updates. Owensboro Parks and Recreation staff said the complex is in desperate need of some major renovations in order to entice more teams to travel to Owensboro and play in tournaments.
Owensboro Parks and Recreation Director Amanda Rogers presented a $2,951,100 plan to city commissioners on Tuesday that focused on various aspects of renovation for the park, including new fields, additional parking, rebranding and and a overall new look for the athletic complex.
Rogers said that while Owensboro used to be a prime location for holding baseball and softball tournaments, other cities have caught up to, and even surpassed, Owensboro as a hotspot for athletic events. Much of this, Rogers said, is due to outdated infrastructure.
“The Owensboro Sports Complex was built in ‘86 and ‘87, and it truly was an original in our region,” Rogers said. “It’s lasted 31 years and has provided a tremendous amount of economic impact for our community each year.”
According to Rogers, 28 to 30 tournaments are scheduled annually at the Owensboro Softball Complex between April and October. More than 2,000 games are played at the facility each year. Rogers said the location is crucial to Owensboro’s sports tourism strategy because of its long-standing success with various athletic events.
However, due to aging infrastructure at the complex, as well as heavy use of the fields over time, Rogers said the number of tournament and game cancellations has grown in recent years. Rogers said 238 teams had to cancel weekend events last year at an 18 percent cancellation rate.
“Those cancellation numbers keep growing,” Rogers said. “With every tournament cancellation, we miss new dollars that can be infused into our economy.”
Rogers said challenges the complex faces include poor draining capabilities and poor soil composition for the fields. Rogers said these challenges are affecting Owensboro’s reputation in the market of sports tourism, and tournament directors have begun losing confidence in the Owensboro Softball Complex as a reliable location to host large-scale tournaments and events.
In September, Owensboro Times spoke to Jared Bratcher, sports marketing director for Owensboro Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau, who said an outside group evaluated what Owensboro could be doing better as a sports town. One of the main recommendations that study revealed was replacing the four infields at Jack C. Fischer Park with turf.
Rogers has been assisted by Land Design and Development throughout the process of formulating a plan for the softball complex. Water Resources Manager Chad McCormick said their plan for renovation would be divided into three phases: Phase 1 would focus on updating the fields with either fully synthetic material or, at a cheaper cost, using a hybrid method to improve the field’s conditions; Phase 2 would focus on an updated entryway and additional parking; and Phase 3 would focus on building a playground for the facility and protecting it with a protective netting for foul balls, as well as building a warm-up and batting cage area for players.
For Phase 1 renovations, Rogers and McCormick said an additional 68 parking spaces could be added at predicted totals of $116,400 for the front parking lot and $215,500 for the rear parking lot. Rebranding the main entrance is predicted to cost $90,000, while the hybrid synthetic fields would cost an estimated $1,877,900.
For Phase 2, officials estimate the cost of a new ticketing entrance would come in around $218,000. A fifth field for the complex would cost about $10,000.
Phase 3 would begin renovations in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, with costs for a playground totaling $273,000, a warm up and batting cage area at $70,300 and the addition of a service gate estimated to cost $80,000.
“People are going to know your park by what’s at that entrance,” McCormick said. “Kids are going to know that giant glove out front.”
Rogers agrees that the rebranding for the Owensboro Softball Complex is important, especially as softball tournaments have dissipated over time while baseball tournaments have remained steady.
Mayor Tom Watson and the city commissioners expressed encouragement toward renovations at the softball complex. Watson said he wanted to see some “numbers crunched” before next month, so that the city commission could have a clearer vision on how the project would be funded.
As for funding, Rogers said 15 percent of each phase’s budget includes contingency costs. Rogers said she has been working with City Manager Nate Pagan on developing a finalized budget for this three-year reconstruction plan. After a budget is drafted, the Parks and Rec department will make a formal request in April to proceed with renovations after more details are included in a draft of their 2019-2020 fiscal year budget.