The best-laid plans – even in sports tourism – sometimes fall short. In this case, it’s because of a budget shortfall.
In an effort to attract more sports tourism, the City of Rockford, Illinois, has pinned its hopes on the expansion of a regional athletic facility that would maximize the region's capacity to host athletic tournaments in the 2016-2017 winter season. While 85 percent of the funding is in place for the new Indoor Sports Center at Sportscore Two in Loves Park, the project will still require additional funding from the state to reach completion. Unfortunately, a budget stalemate in Illinois has hampered the ability of the Rockford Park District to solicit bids, and a $2.5 million state grant remains locked away by Governor Bruce Rauner until the state legislature reaches an agreement.
“Once we go to bid, we'll need about 15 to 16 months to finish the project, even if we rush,” Park District Director Tim Dimke told local news source The Rockford Register Star. “We really don't want to risk losing that $2.5 million state grant. That's a lot of money. We're cautiously optimistic the funds will be released soon.”
Sportscore Two is already a top tourist attraction Rockford, drawing more than 2.8 million visitors annually for sports tournaments and games. When the expansion is completed and under full operation, it’s is expected to create 225 full-time equivalent jobs, and generate $16.5 million a year in private sector revenue and $1.9 million a year in additional tax revenue to the region.
Dimke’s optimism could be displaced. The disagreement between Governor Rauner and the Illinois State Legislature is bringing many state projects and services to a standstill. Earlier this week, the state announced it would be suspending the payout of lottery prizes over $25,000. After months of disagreements, Illinois’ new Republican governor and largely Democrat-controlled legislature have failed to find common ground on a budget for a fiscal year that began July 1.
Most of the vital services in Illinois continue to run in part because of court orders, according to a recent NPR report. The Illinois Legislature isn't scheduled to return until the end of September to take up the issue of the budget again. State representative Jack Franks says he's asked the governor to call a special session in an attempt to end the impasse, which the state comptroller said could lead to $8.5 billion in unpaid bills by the end of the year. This bad news for a sports development project that was expected to earn money for the state.
Rockford is one of many U.S. cities pinning their fortunes on sports tourism. A model is emerging in which a coalition of local cities and towns pool their hotel tax receipts and other sources of revenue to expand regional athletic facilities in an effort to attract more visitors to amateur and professional sporting events.
Rockford is far from the only tourism market in Illinois being affected. Following weeks of frantic negotiations and calls to action – and a substantial amount of press – one of the nation’s largest convention and visitors bureaus, Choose Chicago, is without funding. One part of Choose Chicago is the Chicago Sports Commission.