Early rendering of the Louisville Urban League’s track and field complex. | Courtesy of Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government

A consultant hired by Louisville Metro Government estimates that the Louisville Urban League’s proposed $35 million track and field complex would attract at least 17 major events each year, creating a total economic impact of $15.9 million and over $325,000 in local tax revenue annually.

This draft economic impact analysis — shared with Insider Louisville by the Urban League — was conducted by Commonwealth Economics, a consultant that signed a $108,000 one-year contract this summer to provide the city with “financial advice and counseling on complex financial arrangements, deal structures and tax increment financing.”

While the report estimates an economic windfall for the city, this is largely dependent on its ambitious projections for the facility to land several large national and regional championship events during the five-month track and field season each year, which could prove difficult as more cities move toward adding high-tech complexes to compete for such events.

Now dubbed the Louisville Urban League Sports and Learning Complex, the large facility proposed for the 24-acre vacant industrial site near 30th and West Market streets would include a hydraulic banked track, which only nine indoor track and field facilities in the country currently feature.

The project was selected by a city panel created by the Fischer administration last year for the property once slated to become the West Louisville Foodport, which fell apart in 2016 because of financing problems.

The Urban League, which would operate the facility, has so far raised nearly half the $35 million needed to build it, including a $10 million pledge from the city and a $3 million donation from the James Graham Brown Foundation announced at a news conference Monday.

The Commonwealth Economics report opened by estimating that construction for the initial stage of the project would create over $47 million in total economic impact for the city, including $18 million in total wages for the 322 employed during that construction.

At the time this draft was completed, the construction price of Phase I was still at $30 million — featuring an outdoor track, surface parking and other supporting facilities, in addition to 4,000-seat indoor facility — and it did not examine the potential impact of a Phase II for the project, which may include additional retail kiosk space and a new hotel.

As for the events that the indoor complex would hold to bring in visitors, the study estimates that it could host at least 17 for the five months of track and field season between November and March each year, including national championships and college, high school and youth meets from the state and region. These figures were based on phone interviews with “potential event user groups” and event managers for existing track and field facilities.

According to the report, the indoor track and field national championship events each year could come from USA Track and Field, AAU, NCAA Division I through Division III and NAIA, while regional events could come from the ACC and the Great Lakes Valley Conference from Division II.

The Commonwealth Economics report also states that new amateur events “could be created by organizations in Louisville looking to own/operate T&F events on an annual basis,” citing examples from new indoor facilities created in the past several years.

Among these potential amateur events, the report estimates that they could include four college events, three national high school events, two local high school events, two national youth events and two local youth events.

As for the estimated economic impact of attracting visitors to the city for these 17 events, Commonwealth Economics worked with the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau to conclude that they would generate an additional 14,798 annual room nights in the city, which would create a total economic impact of $15.9 million and support $5.1 million in total personal income. They estimate that these events would also bolster the city’s local tax revenue by $325,328 annually.

Noting the ambitious number of championship events that the report estimates the new track and field complex will attract each year, the report added that its estimated net new impact on Louisville’s economy is largely dependent upon the facility owner’s ability and success in obtaining the rights to these potential championship events, which must be bid on each year.

The report adds that the owner’s ability to land these events is also dependent upon their ability “to promote the Project and the City as a preferred host site.”

The Commonwealth Economics reports cites the success of two other new indoor facilities with hydraulic banked tracks in New York City and at Liberty University to back its estimates, but it appears that more cities are jumping on board with this concept and creating increased competition for hosting big events.

There are now nine indoor facilities in the country with a hydraulic banked track, with two built and operated by local governments, one by a corporate sponsor, five by public universities and one by a private college. Two of these just opened in the past year, and two cities have plans to build such facilities in the near future.

The $46 million facility in Birmingham that opened in 2013 was the first one of its kind not built by a college, and has reportedly exceeded its revenue forecasts as it attracts national events. The city-owned complex in New York opened in 2015 and hosts a track and field event nearly every week, many of which are new amateur events.

Noting the success of other facilities around the country, Virginia Beach recently approved financing of a $68 million sports complex that will include the $28 million addition of a hydraulic banked track, hoping to land national track and field championships. The city will pay for the construction of the complex with bonds and pay back the debt with sales taxes, with the construction set to begin by the end of the year and be completed in 2020.

According to an economic impact analysis commissioned by the city in 2017, Virginia Beach’s track and field facility was estimated to bring in 14 annual track and field events, which would create an additional 12,586 hotel room nights annually, along with an economic impact of $4.8 million, $1,678,000 in wages and $343,223 in additional local tax revenue.

Spokane County in Washington is also close to approving the financing of an indoor facility with a hydraulic banked track, which would be the first of its kind on the West Coast. The proposal would also be for the county to back the construction of the facility with bonds and pay it back through sales and hotel taxes, with an economic impact analysis estimating that it would bring in 23,000 additional visitors and create a $33 million economic impact. If approved, the facility is expected to be open by 2021.

The new Louisville complex might not just have competition from new facilities opening up around the country, but some lag time in landing national championships that are booked many years in advance.

For example, the NCAA championship host sites are already booked through 2022, with the Birmingham facility hosting the DI championship that year, in addition to three others in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Some indoor events for USA Track and Field are already booked through 2020, with the New York facility scheduled to host its indoor championship next year.

Among the consultants for the Urban League project listed in the Commonwealth Economics project are coordinators at the New York and Liberty University facilities, as well as the chief of sports performance for USA Track and Field, an event manager at the University of Kentucky and the track and field coach for the University of Louisville.

Local consultants of note are the former Metro Council President David Tandy, the real estate developer Tim Mulloy and the Host Communications founder Jim Host, who was the architect of the financing plan for the KFC Yum! Center. The downtown arena was plagued by tax revenue that was far below projections and created difficulty in repaying its bond debt, which led to its financing plan being revamped by the state, city and UofL last year.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]