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FRIDAY, JANUARY 12, 2007
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Girls gather for coaching instructions during last weekend's Olympic Developmental Program training camp at Jack Allen Recreation Complex in Decatur. Some 350 soccer players from across Alabama participated in the event.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Girls gather for coaching instructions during last weekend's Olympic Developmental Program training camp at Jack Allen Recreation Complex in Decatur. Some 350 soccer players from across Alabama participated in the event.

Fields for fun and profit
Athletic events boost economy
Special activities' '06 impact
seen at $1.8 million

By Melanie B. Smith
msmith@decaturdaily.com 340-2468

Three hundred fifty soccer players hit Jack Allen Recreation Complex fields last weekend, showing their skills and honing their moves.

But the boys and girls weren't a hometown crowd.

Players came from across Alabama for Olympic Developmental Program soccer training.

The sponsoring Alabama Youth Soccer Association in Birmingham rented the fields. Decatur Parks and Recreation workers ran concessions, maintained fields and answered questions.

William Colbert-Sanders came all the way from Birmingham to get wet on the Jack Allen Recreation Complex turf while participating in last weekend's soccer development camp. Last year, the Olympic Developmental Program made a $294,500 impact on the local economy, according to the Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
William Colbert-Sanders came all the way from Birmingham to get wet on the Jack Allen Recreation Complex turf while participating in last weekend's soccer development camp. Last year, the Olympic Developmental Program made a $294,500 impact on the local economy, according to the Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The ODP event poured thousands of dollars into city businesses.

That's thousands of dollars out of other people's pockets, not those of Decatur citizens, officials noted.

Decatur Parks and Recreation has almost every weekend booked this year with such athletic activities using city facilities.

Last year, 16 special athletic events made a $1.8 million economic impact locally, according to the Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau. All but a few of the events used Jack Allen, Wilson Morgan Park or another Decatur Parks and Recreation facility.

Last year, ODP soccer made a $294,500 economic impact locally, according to the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The impact of the soccer event Jan. 6-7 is still being surveyed, said Bureau President Tami Reist. The dollar amount is derived through a formula based on hotel reports of room rates and the number of nights, she said.

The impact of such sports events has more than doubled in a few years.

In 2000, four special athletic events added about $751,000 in economic benefit, bureau records showed. In 2004, the amount had jumped to $1.9 million, largely because of several big softball tournaments.

"All that money is what we view as outsiders paying in. It's just huge for our economy," Reist said.

She said it's great having outdoor sports events in January like the soccer tournament, usually a slow time for visitors.

Reist and Stuart Lamp, sports specialist for the bureau, said their staff and Decatur Parks and Recreation staff work closely together on the athletic events, and the city reaps the benefits.

Scott Spencer, director of coaching for Alabama Youth Soccer, said his group will be in Decatur several more times in 2007.

"The Jack Allen Recreation Complex is spectacular," he said. "It's easily one of the best soccer facilities in the South."

The complex, finished last spring, has 11 laser-leveled fields, certified sports turf, television-quality lighting and other premium features.

Another new facility drawing numbers of visitors is the $3 million Ingalls Marina on the Tennessee River, built with the help of a "tax" self-imposed by local hotels and motels.

A CVB survey of participants in the FLW fishing tournament held at Ingalls Marina in October and November last year found participants reported spending an average of almost $850 while in town.

One hundred of 400 polled responded to the first-time survey, sent out through the event organizer with a cover letter from Mayor Don Kyle, Reist said.

The bureau got back written comments about the marina and Decatur, such as, "This is the best I have been to and (I) fish all over the country," from a Texas fisherman to, "The ramp was outstanding (and) I truly felt welcomed by the residents of Decatur," from a Georgia participant.

A survey will also poll the ODP soccer participants, whose names the bureau got when it served for the first time as housing coordinator for an event, Reist said.

Sporting events aren't letting up in 2007.

Weekend activities scheduled by outside groups at Decatur Parks and Rec facilities include a collegiate soccer showcase, fishing tournaments, national softball tournaments, a birding festival, a golf driving competition and an international soccer game.

Adding in local events like Calhoun Community College games and high school soccer and basketball tournaments, 48 weekends in 2007 are booked with athletic events at Decatur parks, said Kelly Varnell, Parks and Recreation coordinator for athletics.

"Pretty much for our staff ... we have something every weekend through the third weekend in November," she said.

The Decatur/Morgan County athletic events calendar for one month, May, shows a baseball tournament, a national cycling event, a FLW/BFL fishing tournament, USSSA baseball tournament, another ODP soccer event and the NAIA national softball tournament. That's also the month for Decatur's Alabama Jubilee, a top 10 tourism event for the state.

Varnell said a trend for youths to specialize in one sport means they play it almost year-round. That makes travel teams and regional tournaments and competitions more popular, she said.

The Decatur Parks and Rec schedule means overtime work and pay for many employees, Varnell said. Some events don't make money for the department, but they are still good for Decatur hotels, gas stations, restaurants and stores, she said.

Visitors are getting "top notch" out of the Parks and Recreation Department people and facilities, Varnell said.

Reist anticipates the economic benefit from sporting events will be up in 2007.

The help to businesses spills over to the city, of course, through sales taxes. Also, the city gets a hotel tax of 6 percent; another 5 percent goes to the state. Decatur hotels also pay a self-imposed $1.50 fee to fund facilities like the harbor.

Some of the city hotel tax goes to the Convention and Visitors Bureau for marketing, Reist said.

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