The “valley of champions” sports fields in western Shawnee — long a venue for thousands of sports-minded youths and adults — is being considered for a major upgrade that includes new artificial turf fields, parking, walkways and concession stands. Conceptual studies also mention a beer garden, food truck area and a tiny house tournament village as possibilities one day.
Shawnee City council members will pursue improvements at the city’s end of the valley, Stump Park. Members at a committee meeting Tuesday directed staff to continue talks with Metro United Soccer Club for a funding partnership that could result in new synthetic turf on the existing soccer fields, bleachers at one field, expanded parking and eventually three new soccer fields where baseball fields are now. The baseball/softball fields would be relocated to the nearby Mid-America Sport Complex, at 20000 Johnson Drive.
City funding could come from an increase in the hotel guest tax, the city’s economic development fund or the “parks and pipes” dedicated sales tax. Council members were less open to the idea of using some of the city’s share of the new courthouse sales tax to get the project going. Some considered that money as meant for public safety.
The area west of Interstate 435 and Johnson Drive includes city and county property. But the current discussion is being driven by the Shawnee officials, who are interested enough that the project may go on the 2018 capital budget.
The county park district also participated in the study and will discuss the recommendations, said Jeff Stewart, deputy director of the park district. But it’s still very early in the process, he said. County park board members will review their capital budget next week.
The first phase of the Stump Park project would cost $10.7 million and would include updated pedestrian walkways, a playground and parking, in addition to the new fields. The study says it would add $5.8 million a year, directly and indirectly, to the city’s economy.
“Yes, it’s expensive, but I guess the question is what kind of a community do we want to be?” said councilman Jeff Vaught. The Sheels soccer complex in Overland Park ignited business development nearby, and those dollars could just as well be spent in Shawnee, he pointed out.
Stump Park is the home turf of the Metro United Soccer Club, the second largest in the Kansas City area with about 4,000 players. The club asked the city for the improvements. Club president Rob Mogren said improvements will also help attract players to the club.
Part of the funding would come from the club. Shawnee officials are exploring an increase in the hotel tax charged to guests as a possible way to pay for the city’s part. The current 6-percent tax is below neighboring cities that charge closer to 8 or 9 percent. Increasing the rate to 8 percent would have added $148,000 to the $448,000 in revenue the city got from that tax last year.
The increase also looks promising to city officials because new hotels will be coming on line. Shawnee recently added a new Holiday Inn Express, and a Comfort Inn and Fairfield Inn are slated to open soon.
The county properties make up most of the valley, and improvements there are also being looked at, Stewart said.
About 360,000 people attend games at the 70-acre county Mid-America Sport Complex each year. That area includes 10 softball and two baseball fields, batting cages, two multi-use fields, 12 youth softball fields and a fieldhouse where basketball and volleyball are played. An ice rink is located just across the street.
Users say county facilities are in need of updating and that some of Mid-America's fields are under-performing because of their poor quality, according to polls conducted as part of the study.
The county is roughly breaking even on Mid-America, but could be doing better with more usage of some under-performing fields, the study said. The fields are understaffed to maintain maximum use, and spending is below industry standards on maintenance, according to the study. The county also does not have other revenue streams like naming rights and parking fees that are used by other state-of-the-art venues, it said.
Field surfaces, concessions, scoreboards and the like top the immediate list of things being considered by both the city and county for the valley. The consultant’s study also goes a bit further, suggesting that there could be room for a tiny house tournament village, sports-themed restaurant, food truck court and office space for urgent care. But those items were mentioned as options for private investment, outside of the things under immediate consideration.
The city and county are in the beginning stages of reforming the valley, with several steps to go before landing on the future capital improvements budgets. Final plans would go through the Shawnee City Council and the board of county commissioners.