"If you build it, they will come," is more than a saying for the new Elizabethtown Sports Park, centrally located in the Derby Region of Kentucky, about an hour from Louisville. Currently under construction and scheduled to open the summer of 2012, this 150-acre, state-of-the-art park is thoughtfully designed with virtually every feature and amenity a sports lover could want - and will hold most sports, as well.
Banking on the area's accessibility to much of the mid-South and Midwest - as well as guaranteed funding through a restaurant tax, Elizabethtown city leaders have seized the opportunity to build a dream park and turn the area into a premier sports destination. So how does one start with a clean slate and build a "field of dreams"?
The not-so-simple answer is that Janna Clark, who heads up sports marketing for Elizabethtown's Tourism and Convention Bureau, began by talking with more than a hundred people involved with organized sports, everyone from tournament organizers and coaches to athletes and parents.
"We as a community, including our mayor, city planners, tourism commissioners and city council members, went to the people who truly know the traveling sports business and picked their brains," Clark said.
They asked, "What do you like about the parks around the country that you've visited?" And then, they followed that question up with, "What haven't you seen in other parks that you'd like to see in ours?"
Clark put that challenge to the park's designers, who were able to meet virtually every request.
Tapping into the Best Minds and Talent
To turn this vision and collective wisdom into reality, Clark's team actively sought out the best and the brightest. They selected award-winning athletic facilities design firm Dalhoff Thomas, based out of Memphis, after interviewing a number of top design firms around the country.
Next, Elizabethtown recruited turf specialist James Bergdoll as the park's turf manager, who has designed and maintained multiple types sports fields. Bergdoll is overseeing the selection, design and maintenance of the more than 40 acres of the natural turf, as well as the synthetic turf fields.
With a degree in the field from Purdue University, Bergdoll has analyzed the properties of various grasses and selected Bermuda grass for the soccer/multipurpose fields and a mix of Kentucky Bluegrass and turf-type Tall Fescue for the baseball/softball fields, based on the growing and rejuvenation properties of these grasses.
What Will the Park will Offer
Designed to be flexible enough to hold events as diverse as soccer and baseball to band competitions and dog shows, the Elizabethtown Sports Park has the space and facilities to back its goal of becoming of the premier sporting event destinations in the country.
The park will have 12 baseball/softball fields, 12 soccer/multipurpose fields, including two synthetic turf ones and two championship football fields - all fully lit.
"No matter who you are, if you're a coach, official, athlete, parent or organizer, we have put elements in this park to make your experience the best possible one," said Clark.
At the park, coaches will find their own coaches' lounge and meeting spaces. For officials, the park has separate locker rooms with desks and meeting space.
The entire park is wired for internet access, with free WiFi. This means that coaches and officials can easily work on their laptops, while event organizers can upload scores to their website and even offer live video streaming, if they want.
The park has large, covered pavilions ideal for opening and closing ceremonies. Just outside the pavilions is open space wired for electricity along the way, perfect for booths and vendor spaces.
One of the park's designers, Dean Thomas with Dalhoff Thomas, noted that these pavilions and large areas are especially user-friendly for traveling teams.
"There is a large pavilion for check-in, assistance for out of town teams, tournament postings and schedules, along with an area for commercial vendors. After you leave the pavilion, there are two large lawn areas for team tents. These lawn areas connect to the three baseball/softball quads with tree-lined walkways," he said. "In most sports parks, there isn't a centrally located place for teams to set up and stay within the park itself."
Parents and spectators weren't left out either. The park will have playgrounds with ample shade for younger siblings. Each of the baseball quads includes a championship-level field with additional shade, lawn seating and outfield seating.
To ensure the park can meet the needs of all athletes, the park will feature what they call a "miracle field," named after the Miracle Leagues and designed for physically challenged athletes. While it looks like a baseball diamond, it can host multiple sports. The miracle field's rubberized surfaced is designed to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers and won't get too hot in the summer.
"This will be a place for kids - and adults - to go who might not have the opportunity to play elsewhere," said Bergdoll. "We're so excited about being able to offer a safe, accessible field so they can come out and play, like everyone should be able to do."
The synthetic turf fields are as state-of-the-art as the rest of the park. With synthetic grass atop a three inch mix of sand and crumb rubber, the synthetic fields will be well-cushioned and have drainage underneath so players can play on it during light rain or soon after a major storm, unlike with natural turf.
"It's just like what you see at NFL stadiums," said Berdgoll.
And last, but not least, the park will offer plenty of convenient parking and family restrooms.
Meeting the Needs of the Local Community
While the Elizabethtown Sports Park is being created to draw teams from around the country, it was designed to serve the local community as well.
Open every day of the year, the park's 150 acres includes a three-mile multi-modal walking path that spans the entire park and bridges covering wetland areas.
"With its playgrounds, picnicking facilities and handicapped accessibility, our local community gets to enjoy the facilities and also reap the benefit of becoming a sports destination and the resulting tourism dollars," said Clark.
In addition, Elizabethtown leaders are using the construction of the park as a way to boost the local economy. They created the bid packages so local contractors had the opportunity to bid on parts of the project, from electrical to concrete to plumbing.
"It's our way of putting our community to work and using dollars that are close to us," added Clark.
Elizabethtown has the Whole Package
E-town, at it is often called, is known for its convenient location. Less than an hour south of Louisville's international airport, two hours north of Nashville and located at the juncture of two main regional highways, Elizabethtown is easy to access. It's only a several-hours' drive from other cities like St. Louis, Memphis and Indianapolis.
"E-town has such a great location," said Kevin Marie Nuss, executive director of the Kentucky Sports Authority. "Plus, it's very family friendly and has lots of restaurants and activities outside of the tournament."
Clark notes that Elizabethtown is extremely value driven, making it affordable for athletes and their families. With family-style restaurants and 21 hotel properties with more than 1,500 rooms - and additional hotel properties likely to be added in the near future - sports organizers will find the area lucrative.
Plus, the Elizabethtown's Tourism and Convention Bureau is standing ready to help sports planners put together packages for the teams.
"We want to help them with their lodging and extracurricular activities, along with the event itself," said Clark.
The word of this new "field of dreams" is already beginning to spread, even though opening day is more than a year away. Elizabethtown's Tourism and Convention Bureau is already fielding calls from planners looking to hold events there.
Kentucky Sports Authority's Kevin Marie Nuss isn't surprised.
"This park is so state-of-the-art and has so many conveniences you don't see elsewhere," she said. "Plus, Elizabethtown is doing a great job of making sure the coaches, participants and families will have a great time when they're there."