While city and county officials continue to discuss shared funding of the proposed more than $40 million sports complex, the project is off to a good start, according to an expert in the amateur sports and recreation industry.

The proposed project involves the former Bluegrass Downs property donated to McCracken County in 2020, and part of Stuart Nelson Park. It would include soccer, baseball and softball fields, a renovated grandstand and various other amenities.

Evan Eleff, a partner with Sports Facilities Companies, which is involved in sports management projects all over the country, recently met with the McCracken County Sports Tourism Commission to discuss the project.

“There’s no formal agreement. We just came in to share some of our experience about how the process works and key things to consider,” Eleff told The Sun.

“Generally speaking, where they are right now (in the process) is figuring out the funding of the project and then a final decision can be made. Obviously, it’s led by the county. The fact that they’ve got the (master) plan in place and they’ve got at least a verbal commitment from the city (to participate), it’s a great start to get something built that could have the kind of impact that they’re looking for.”

While Eleff said he was only acting as a resource for the sports tourism commission at this point, “based on the work that I have done on the market, I think the area, Paducah and McCracken County, brings a lot to the table in terms of a destination. So, I’d say they’re off to a really strong start.”

There are reasons for local officials to be optimistic about the project, Eleff said.

“First and foremost, it is certainly one of the fastest growing, if not the fastest growing sector of youth and amateur sports and recreation. One of the reasons that it’s the fastest growing sector is because through the recession, and even coming out of the COVID interruption, which of course we’re still coming out of, youth sports has proven to be recession-resistant.

“So, when every other portion of the tourism industry was in the decline coming out of the great recession, youth and amateur sports tourism continue to grow, quarter after quarter, after quarter,” he said. “People continue to spend on their children’s endeavors, particularly sports.

“As a result, you’ve got a lot of communities looking at sports tourism. And, those communities that do it right are enjoying a significant economic impact from non-local visitation that would not be in place but for the tournaments and events.”

Eleff said Paducah already enjoys a good reputation as a destination, “because you’ve got such a great food scene, and a good culture scene, and an art scene. And, I know some of the big events that you’ve had, like the Quilt Show and several others that come to Paducah have been successful ... and they wanted to come back.

“That is such a great indicator for the ability to build out a tourism strategy around sports events.”

Chris Hill, vice chairman of the sports tourism commission, agrees.

“We’re positioned very, very well, within a 500-mile radius, we’ve got about 22 million people to pull from if you include the Chicago and Atlanta areas,” he said.

“We already have the infrastructure with the hotels and the restaurants. Just look at what we’ve done with the indoor facility (Paducah-McCracken County Convention & Expo Center). There’s already been millions of direct spending into the area because of the indoor facility and that’s in the middle of a pandemic.”

Hill said the commission’s efforts are somewhat on pause as the funding discussion continues.

“As far as any decisions being made, we are still in the information-gathering process. Any time that you’re looking to spend a bunch of money, you don’t want to delay the decision, but you want to get the information up-front so you’re making a wise choice for whatever you’re trying to make the decision on,” he said.

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