More sports facilities could boost tourism in coming years

Editor’s note: This column is part of the CDT’s Business Matters special section.

Centre County is fortunate to have many reasons for people to visit. Our outdoor recreation, arts and culture, along with a variety of attractions provide ample things to see and do. Although the actual number of attractions has not increased, those who manage these attractions are not resting on their laurels and continue to offer different experiences to encourage new and repeat visitation. That, along with the increase in the number of events the area hosts, provides great potential to see visitor numbers continue to increase:

▪ The Grange fairgrounds are seeing a huge increase in event activity from the equine industry.

▪ The Columbus Chapel/Boal Mansion is adding events and making changes to the landscape to attract more visitors.

▪ The new board of directors at Curtin Village is making significant strides to preserve and promote a pillar of Centre County history, including new summer events.

▪ The first-ever concerts at Beaver Stadium and Penn’s Cave will attract a huge influx of visitors to the area.

All these provide opportunities to increase travel to the area and ultimately travel spending.

Another area that can provide an increase in the number of visitors is sports tourism. For at least the past 10 years there has been ongoing discussion about the need for additional community sports facilities, both indoor and outdoor. This discussion grew out of a feasibility study that was initiated by the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau back in 2005 to help determine if the Centre County area had the appropriate facilities to attract a variety of regional, state and national tournaments.

The outcome of that study included a real eye-opener. Yes, we have great potential to host various types of tournaments, but other than the university, the community didn’t really have what the consultant considered “tournament-quality facilities,” something that he deemed necessary to accomplish our goal of attracting tournaments. The eye-opener was, as they say, “the rest of the story” — and it was that the area did not even have enough facilities to accommodate the needs of our own residents, which came as a shock to a lot of people. The consultant’s findings revealed that kids were being turned away from various sports activities because there were more participants than available space to play. In fact, he reported that many parents were driving their kids to Altoona and Lock Haven to enable them to participate in sports programs.

We have had substantial growth in the number of residents but, unfortunately, the community has not kept pace with that growth in the form of indoor and outdoor sports/recreation facilities for our residents.

C3 Sports (part of Christ Community Church) was the one of the first organizations that, after reviewing the consultant’s report, recognized the need in the community and built a new indoor sports venue, incorporating it into its new church design. It didn’t take them long to be booked solid and they are now in the planning stages to construct an additional indoor facility. The YMCA of Centre County also reviewed and agreed with the consultant’s findings and have since purchased land with the hope of future development of a new YMCA and indoor sports facility, along with some outdoor fields. Both of these projects are a great start to addressing the indoor facility shortfall in Centre County, along with the outdoor fields proposed by Centre Region Parks and Recreation.

Centre County is a great place to visit, live and do business, and it’s also a great location to host sports tournaments. Just imagine what could happen if the community worked together — the momentum for developing new and additional sports facilities would surge so that by 2020 Centre County residents would have use of new indoor facilities, as well as outdoor fields, and the area could be bustling with visitors here for regional, state and national tournament action. That would mean more business for our lodging properties, restaurants and retail shops. The economic impact potential from travel spending could be huge.

Betsey Howell is the executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau. Visit the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau website at