Four years ago, a period of intense rain forced the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association to move a state tournament from Masterson Station Park in Lexington to Owensboro just a week before the tournament.
The change caused headaches for players, coaches and tournament organizers.
It also was a huge economic loss to Lexington. Nearly 150 teams from across the state spent money in Owensboro-area hotels, restaurants and gas stations instead of in Fayette County.
That wouldn't have happened if Lexington had enough tournament-quality sports fields, said Kris Zander, director of the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association, a statewide youth soccer association.
"All the natural grass fields are completely overused," Zander said. "Any kind of inclement weather and they have to be shut down."
That may change in coming years.
This week, the Bluegrass Sports Commission announced it has raised $25,000 for an economic impact study to build a multiuse sports complex in Lexington.
Phil Holoubek, a board member of the nonprofit group that promotes sports in Central Kentucky, said the idea for a tournament-quality sports facility has been kicked around for more than a decade. To jump-start those discussions, the nonprofit opted to fund this first step — an economic analysis of the benefits of having such a facility in the area.
"This is the first step in what could be a marathon," Holoubek cautioned. The city owns more than 130 acres that could be a potential site for a multi-sport complex that would include soccer and baseball diamonds and other sports fields in the Cardinal Run area. The site is under lease by the Lexington Youth Soccer Association, but the group has no fields on the land.
The potential site stretches from Versailles Road to Parkers Mill Road along New Circle Road. On the opposite side of New Circle Road is Cardinal Run South, a city-run baseball complex.
"We have a lot of kids who play youth sports in Lexington," Holoubek said. "But all of these sports teams have limited field space not only for games but also for practice. They are traveling on teams all over the state to go to tournaments. If we could keep those tournaments here, Lexington would benefit from the money that parents are spending on hotels, restaurants and for gas."
The group hopes to have a consultant hired by the end of this month and a final report sometime this summer, Holoubek said.
The artist renderings released by the Bluegrass Sports Commission this week are only ideas of what could go into Cardinal Run North, Holoubek said. The Cardinal Run North site has not been finalized as the location.
But Holoubek said the site does have space not only for baseball, soccer, lacrosse and football fields but also for bike and walking tracks that could eventually connect to other parts of the city.
City officials applauded the Bluegrass Sports Commission for taking leadership in the development.
"We look forward to seeing the results of the economic impact study, but I want to stress that no definitive site has been picked," said Geoff Reed, general services commissioner and acting head of the city's park and recreation department.
Brian Miller, executive director of the Bluegrass Sports Commission, emphasized that the effort to build such a complex will likely take private and public sector support. The report will not only look at what type of revenue a facility could generate but also at the feasibility and potential for private-public partnerships.
"To make this thing a reality, it really is going to take a village. It will have to be a community-wide effort," Miller said.
Holoubek said that if the park included artificial playing surfaces — which are more expensive than grass surfaces — a multiple-sports complex could cost $25 million. But those are just estimates.
Reed said that's why the economic impact study is so important. The city is looking at a host of possible infrastructure projects in coming years. On the top of the list is more than $600 million over the next decade in stormwater and sewer upgrades.
The city and the Urban County Council need to know what type of money a project like this could generate before they decide to commit city money.
"We've got a lot of big-ticket projects in the mill," Reed said. "That's why a report like this is so important. I applaud the Bluegrass Sports Commission for using private money to get this started."
Regardless, the city knows the city's youth sports teams are struggling to find places to practice and play games, he said.
"There is no doubt that there is not enough soccer and baseball fields to support the level of activity that goes on," Reed said.
In soccer alone, there are between 10,000 and 12,000 players in the Lexington area who belong to Kentucky Youth Soccer Association-affiliated organizations. "That doesn't include players in church leagues or the YMCA," Zander said of the explosion in youth soccer over the last decade.
Elizabethtown used public money to build a $29 million multi-sport complex that opened in 2012. A tax on restaurants generates money for the debt payments.
An economic analysis done the first year the 25-field tournament complex opened showed that the park generated $11.9 million to $14.1 million in additional revenue through hotel stays, restaurant meals and other spending, said Janna Clark, the director of sports tourism for the Elizabethtown Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A second economic analysis has not been done because of the expense, Clark said. But visitors in the second full year of business increased by 18 percent. Last year, the park attracted 55,000 out-of-town visitors.
"Each city has done it their own way," Clark said of the multiuse sports complexes. "There is no one model out there. Some are public. Some are public-private partnerships. It just depends on the community and the needs of that community."
Clark said that each park has its own niche to fill. Elizabethtown encourages Lexington's efforts to get its own sports complex.
"There is plenty of sports tourism business," Clark said. "And we want as much business as possible to land in the commonwealth."