By L&T Publisher Earl Watt
Last week’s announcement that Liberal’s softball complex will be replaced was welcome new to many sports enthusiasts.
There were a handful of conspiracy theorists who believed that the city would simply do away with the fields without replacing them, but reality set in that there will be a new softball complex constructed.
For those that may have missed it, a new retail company moving to Liberal bought the softball facility currently located at the corner of Seventh and Western.
To make way for the progress in business, new fields will be constructed on a large vacant area owned by the city further west by the airport.
Adult fields will be constructed in that location, and youth fields will be built on the east side of town by the Eighth Street Baseball Complex.
This is a great way to clean the slate and start with a fresh complex with a layout that makes sense.
The old complex was a hodgepodge of fields that were stacked rather than planned.
Most multi-field complexes have a cloverleaf pattern, where the home plates are at the center. But Liberal’s old complex is not like that at all. Only two of the fields match that layout while the other is set just the opposite, making access to the concession stand and restrooms difficult.
The youth fields are also laid out in a stacked format (side by side) rather than in a cloverleaf.
Since we are building new fields, it is also a chance to enhance Liberal’s ability to create a facility that will be attractive to more regional tournaments.
There are two big economic benefits to having quality sports facilities.
When we have nice facilities, it keeps our local community active and engaged. If other communities have better facilities, we tend to see our folks travel out of town for weekend tournaments, which contributes to a statistic known as leakage.
The other benefit is bringing out of town people into Liberal. When we have nice facilities, other teams want to come here to play. While they are here, they eat, shop and refuel, which provides a nice little bump to the local economy.
Adult softball leagues are very common throughout Southwest Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. If we are going to have the newest fields, we need to do it right and make them the best in the region. That way, we will host the most tournaments.
In the youth division, this is a big deal.
In about two weeks, the 13-year-old Liberal Rattlers will host the Midwest Regional. That means six other state champions and a Canadian team will be spending five days in Liberal. Players and parents will be filling motel rooms, eating, shopping and otherwise keeping themselves entertained while their team is not playing.
According to national statistics, this weekend will bring in more than a quarter of a million dollars to Liberal.
The more of these we can get, the bigger the economic impact.
Some may look at the fields as simply a cost to the community, but that is simply not the case. These can be revenue generators if we make our facilities not simply adequate but exceptional.
Rosel Field is perhaps one of the best little league fields in Kansas. We should use the same commitment, and investment, in these new fields to increase our ability to be the place to host tournaments. This is not a “Field of Dreams” scenario. We have to replace the fields, anyway. Why not use this as an opportunity to maximize our drawing power? These fields are more than recreation. They can be part of an economic development strategy that helps make Liberal a destination.
If you agree, talk to your commissioners and city staff. It might just be a great way to get a massive return on sales tax dollars.