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Fort Wayne looks to become regional youth sports destination

The city's Youth Sports Study is complete and says Fort Wayne can capitalize on and expand the position it already holds by building facilities, creating an organizational structure and marketing.

The study recommends:

Building an outdoor multi-sport field complex with 12 to 18 fields for soccer, lacrosse, rugby and field hockey with synthetic turf, lighting, locker rooms and a championship field with bleacher seating and lighting

A new or expanded baseball and softball complex with eight or more fields

Leveraging existing programs and infrastructure to create a regional adaptive-sports hub with the potential for national reach to serve athletes with disabilities.

It also says officials should create a new sports commission with a board of directors and full-time executive director focused on youth sports. This yet-to-be-formed commission would enhance local youth sports through attracting regional events and developing new commission-specific events, building Fort Wayne's reputation for youth sports, and creating a youth sports foundation to serve children from low-income households and adaptive sports participants.

The study also recommends marketing Fort Wayne as the premier regional youth sports destination through its unique combination of facilities, proximity to other Midwestern cities, affordable lodging, family-friendly attractions and the community's reputation for Hoosier hospitality.

"This study affirms that Fort Wayne is truly a destination for youth sports yet offers opportunities for our residents," Mayor Tom Henry said. "I look forward to reviewing the recommendations more closely with the advisory committee and identifying initiatives that will enhance what we have and create new ways to engage local youth and families from across the Midwest and country."

Henry and Parks Director Al Moll will evaluate the findings and release their recommendations in a separate announcement later this year.

"The Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department is excited about being a partner in growing the Fort Wayne youth sports market. Some of these suggestions fit squarely with Parks' mission of providing facilities and programs that enhance the local quality of life," Moll said. "Others, such as the potential for a sports commission, are better suited for other organizations. Either way, Parks was pleased to be involved in this study and look at how we can better serve youth through sports."

In May 2013, city officials announced the selection of Aquarius Sports and Entertainment of Gaithersburg, Md., and Victus Advisors of Park City, Utah, to conduct the $115,000 study. The study was paid for by the Legacy Fund, money from the lease and sale of the city's old electric utility that is being used for proposals aimed at transformational change in the community.

The study says the economic benefit of investing in becoming a regional youth sports destination depends on how much money is invested. At the low end, spending $10.million on building facilities could create $49.5.million in economic output; while spending $30.million could draw 100 annual youth sports events and create nearly $200.million in economic activity, including 277 jobs, the study says.

dstockman@jg.net

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