Sports tourism group suggests Fox Valley enhance current & build new sports tourism complexes

A Phoenix-based sports tourism group suggests Fox Valley enhance current & build new sports tourism complexes, June 25, 2014. (WLUK/Bill Miston)

NEENAH – A sports tourism consulting group is suggesting the Fox Valley enhance its current sports complexes and build a new one, with the majority of funding coming from taxing hotel guests.

The recommendations from a 2014 study commissioned by the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau were made public Wednesday at a meeting with community members at the Bridgewood Resort in Neenah.

The study’s goal is to identify how to grow sports tourism spending in the region through regional and national sports tournaments.

"Some of our recommendations are enhancements to what they're already doing, and it's not just venue-based, but more people power as well," said Jon Schmieder, CEO of Huddle Up Group.

The Phoenix-based firm is recommending the bureau pursue a sports venue development and marketing campaign, build a new indoor facility for hard-court sports like basketball, volleyball and track; and enhance current facilities, such as the Tri-County Ice Arena in Neenah, as well as Appleton’s Family Ice Center and the USA Youth Sports Complex.

"There are a couple different suggestions we have,” said Schmieder. “It just depends on what the bureau wants to do."

Schmieder’s also recommending the bureau campaign to raise the hotel room tax by 2 percent, which would generate an estimated $24 million over 30 years; with the bureau pitching in $500,000 to get the project off the ground.

Tourism officials say the room tax increase is on top of the yet-to-be-approved room tax increase to fund part of Appleton’s planned $28 million downtown exhibition center expansion.

"The nice thing about sports tourism – its families,” said the visitors bureau executive director Pam Seidl. “They tend to stay longer and spend a little more money when they're here.”

Seidl says the bureau – which represents 19 communities along the Fox River, south of Brown County – paid less than $20,000 for the study. Small, when compared to the roughly $7 million in sports tourism dollars the visitors bureau estimates comes into the region, each year. Nationally, experts say it’s an $8 billion industry.

"So the next steps are taking these recommendations back with our board, and some strategic planning, which we will do in September, and decide what we want to implement and how fast we want to bring those forward,” said Seidl.

Once the visitors bureau decides what it wants to do, a factor that remains is who will assume the risk, if the facilities and improvements don't make money.

"Who would take it over, I think that's a big question," said Neenah’s recreation supervisor Jim Kluge after the meeting.

Despite that question having yet to be decided, Kluge says he liked what he heard.

"It's something that – I think – is long overdue,” said Kluge

The consultant is suggesting bids for the recommendations start this summer, with a grand opening in 2016. However, that timeline depends on what recommendations the visitors bureau moves forward with, and how quickly.