Lincoln, Nebraska is one of those sports destinations that never stops evolving. Not only does it host events ranging from Garmin Gravel Worlds® cycling and running treks to the USA Roller Sports National Championships, but it also recently unveiled designs for a new synthetic turf baseball/softball complex to complement its existing multi-sport facilities.
The Lincoln Youth Complex will house eight turf fields: two championship fields (one each for both baseball and softball) five youth fields that can be used for both baseball and softball, and one field that will be the new home of Homer’s Heroes for mentally and physically challenged youth. Outfield areas of each baseball and softball field also will accommodate flag football, soccer, lacrosse and other sports, providing at least 15 fields of play at the complex.
The project, slated to break ground in spring and be ready for action in late fall 2024, is a joint venture between the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau, Nebraska Wesleyan University (the facility will be home to the Prairie Wolves baseball and softball programs), the City of Lincoln, Lancaster County and other community partners. Major donors include former Major League Baseball players (and University of Nebraska-Lincoln alums) Alex Gordon and Darin Erstad.
“All of us saw the need for more turf fields,” says Derek Bombeck, sales development manager for the Lincoln CVB. “A lot of travel teams, and the industry overall, are demanding turf now. Having year-round turf fields that people can practice on and play on — assuming the weather isn’t too burdensome — fills a major gap in Lincoln. The new complex will give us more opportunities for more events in Lincoln.”
Other amenities will include a playground, as well as parking for more than 750 vehicles, overflow parking, perimeter fencing, sidewalks, concession stands, a ticket booth, warm-up batting cages and more. Parks and lakes will be nearby, too.
The Lincoln Youth Complex also “will play well” with existing facilities in the city, Bombeck notes. The Speedway Sports Complex offers nine outdoor grass soccer fields plus a 100,000-square-foot indoor turf facility, along with eight basketball courts and 12 volleyball courts, while the Lincoln Sports Foundation boasts 15 multi-purpose grass fields and one lighted stadium with seating for 2,500, plus an 80-by-200-yard indoor turf field, an indoor track area and eight hardwood courts. Another facility, the Kinetic Sports Complex, offers eight indoor basketball courts and 12 indoor volleyball courts.
“Private and public sector partners have stepped up to the plate to create an inspiring project that furthers our work to champion both equity and economic development in Lincoln,” Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said when the Lincoln Youth Complex was announced in late September. “[It] demonstrates our community’s forward momentum and will catalyze additional growth and development that support our local economy and high quality of life.”
The complex will be a destination for more people than ever before, added Jeff Maul, executive director of the Lincoln CVB and vice president of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.
“[It] is designed to be a space for players of all backgrounds and abilities to come together and play,” he said. “Our programs will meaningfully expand opportunities for underserved youth in our community, and this project can have a profoundly positive impact on Lincoln and our youth for generations to come.”
Local officials also expect the Lincoln Youth Complex’s prime location — off Interstate 180 and Cornhusker Highway — to be a home run with visitors.
“It’s literally right across the street from Haymarket Park and Bowlin Stadium, which are the University of Nebraska’s baseball and softball stadiums, as well as home of the Lincoln Saltdogs [the city’s professional baseball team]. “It’s also walkable from Downtown Lincoln,” Bombeck says. “Many times, teams from out of town or out of state in other cities play at complexes that are on the outskirts of town. This one is right in the heart of Lincoln, where the hotels, restaurants, shops and bars will all be easily accessible.”
The Lincoln CVB has an existing relationship with Triple Crown Sports, an event management company based in Colorado, and Bombeck says he’d like to bring a variety of baseball and softball tournaments to the new facility. Booking info will be available in 2023, according to the Lincoln Youth Complex’s website.
“Lincoln is in a perfect destination, being right in the middle of the country, and it’s easily drivable from multiple states,” Bombeck says. “It’s just that the turf facilities have been a little wanting. Now, we’re hoping we can fill the calendar for this complex. The more turf we have to compete with other cities, the better.”
“Tremendous Passion and Tradition”
A centralized location is just the beginning of what makes Nebraska’s state capital a desirable sports destination for all kinds of events.
The city’s rich history of hosting diverse sports activities dates back years and includes the 2015 State Games of America and the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games. Lincoln also has welcomed the 2022 Nebraska AAU Grand Prix volleyball tournament, the 2021 National High School Finals Rodeo, the 2021 USA Wrestling Senior World Team Trials and the 2021 USA Wrestling U23 National Championships, the World Tenpin Bowling Youth Championships, regional rounds of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, exhibition NBA games and more.
Additionally, Lincoln is home to USA Roller Sports and the National Museum of Roller Skating, which contains the world’s largest collection of historical roller skates, as well as patents, medals, trophies, photos, art, film, costumes, archival materials and skating memorabilia. So it makes perfect sense that Lincoln frequently hosts the USA Roller Sports National Championships. The 2022 event took place at the Speedway Sports Complex in July and included inline speed skating, rink hockey and roller figure skating competitions.
“Lincoln has a tremendous passion and tradition of hosting major national competitions, all the way down to local youth sports,” Bombeck says. “Lincoln’s commitment and small town feel are what make it an attractive destination.”
In fact, that small-town feel has helped attract events like the Garmin Gravel Worlds, a series of cycling and running events ranging from 10K to 300 miles that take place on rural dirt roads just north of Lincoln. This year’s races attracted more than 2,500 participants from 48 states, 16 countries and four continents, according to Gravel World officials.
“We have great gravel roads, and this event is growing off the charts,” Bombeck says, noting that he recently met with organizers to discuss ways in which the city and the CVB can better accommodate participants. “Some people don’t like living in a rural area, but one of the advantages of Lincoln is that we have world-class venues like Pinnacle Bank Arena, the Bob Devaney Sports Center and the Lancaster Event Center, yet just outside of the city remains an agricultural-based area. So, there are plenty of gravel roads, with not-too-steep inclines and declines.”
As Lincoln’s evolution as a go-to sports tourism destination continues (with more major announcements likely in 2023), the city’s lodging industry is keeping pace. There are nearly 5,300 hotel rooms available, and a new 120-room Residence Inn by Marriott extended-stay hotel is in the works for the downtown’s historic Haymarket District.
“We’re continuing to grow, continuing to build,” Bombeck says. “Our Tier One amenities, community support and attention to detail are a few of the many reasons to come to Lincoln. We have created a buzz around the city that is being noticed by many across the country.” SDM