St. Louis Post Dispatch: New youth sports facilities in region aim to fill need, target tourism dollars

May 26, 2021


CHESTERFIELD — Youth basketball coordinator Brittany Carter is tired of traveling out of town for mediocre tournaments. But she’s struggled to find a good facility here, too.

“There is nothing up to par with what we need, especially for our tournaments,” said Carter, who runs the 40-team all-girls club Missouri Phenom Basketball.

So when the Chesterfield Sports Association asked if Missouri Phenom was looking for a full-time venue, her organization signed on. Fieldhouse, a nine-court, 97,000-square-foot facility at 150 North Eatherton Road near St. Louis Premium Outlets, breaks ground this fall. The development is aiming to attract 900,000 visitors a year from across the country.

And it will be just one of the newest youth sports facilities in the region. Courts, rinks and fields are in such high demand, developers here have recently opened or are now building at least a half-dozen, from multimillion-dollar hockey rinks to six-field indoor soccer facilities. Fieldhouse joins PowerPlex, the $55 million sports and entertainment complex in north St. Louis County, Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights, Maryville University Hockey Center in Chesterfield, and Futbol Club STL in St. Louis. They are together helping to bolster a collection of sports facilities in a region that is woefully under-built for youth sports, backers said.

Proponents say these projects also have merit beyond the development of the game — the facilities are expected to draw thousands of visitors every year who will bring dollars to restaurants, hotels and other attractions still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. sports tourism generated $45 billion in 2019, growing 5% from the previous year, including $12.5 billion on transportation, $9.2 billion on lodging, and $8.6 billion on food and beverages, according to a report from Sports Events and Tourism Association and the Northstar Meetings Group.

“Every large city you go to has two to three multisport facilities,” said Stuart Duncan, director at Chesterfield Sports Association, which will own and operate Fieldhouse. “It always made me scratch my head as to why St. Louis, which is a well-known, die-hard sports town, did not have the same thing.”

Jose and Patty Trujillo moved to St. Louis from Miami three years ago and were impressed by the number of opportunities kids have for organized sports here. But they couldn’t find a place to play pickup games. In July, they opened their own indoor soccer facility, Futbol Club STL, at South Kingshighway Boulevard and Manchester Avenue.

“I was surprised no one did a year-round, indoor (facility) before,” Jose Trujillo said.

Broadcaster Dan Buck’s Big Sports Properties firm is leading the $55 million PowerPlex development at the St. Louis Outlet Mall in North County. His plan calls for six sports venues, a hotel, several restaurants, go-kart tracks, a putt-putt golf and ropes course, and retail. Construction of PowerPlex has begun, and Buck said he expects to close on his financing and the acquisition of the mall by this fall.

He says an all-inclusive campus makes it easy for parents to park their cars on a Friday and not have to get back in them until Sunday.

“We live in a sports-rich community that recognizes the value of sports. It is a great, healthy family activity to be a part of. And it builds teamwork and leadership and respect — Midwestern values and principles,” Buck said.

Basketball and volleyball have particular challenges in finding a venue to practice and play. Organizers vie for a limited number of gyms at schools and churches, which aren’t well equipped to handle concessions and spectators and don’t have the right courts or enough parking — among other concerns, said Duncan.

“We have facilities now that have leaky roofs,” Missouri Phenom’s Carter said.

Tony Stratman of Stratman Sports, a Fieldhouse tenant, said St. Louis-area volleyball teams often travel to Cape Girardeau’s new 12-court facility for tournaments. He said that facility is among a handful in the country that have good floors, lighting and spectator seating for games. He said the facility often attracts out-of-state teams.

“We’re finally going to be able to do that here with Fieldhouse,” Stratman said.

Duncan is in talks with local orthopedic groups and physical therapists to offer preventive care and treatment. He envisions Fieldhouse as a place where kids can do homework and also hear from professional athletes and guest speakers on diversity, mental health and bullying.

His long-term goal is to pay off debt and reduce rental fees so some kids can play for free, Duncan said.

Fieldhouse is slated for final approval from the city of Chesterfield in June. Duncan expects to secure the loan in July and break ground soon after that.

And the facility is almost fully leased, Duncan said.

Some parents are already embracing the idea of another sports complex in the St. Louis region.

Jason Rubel of Chesterfield, who watched his 10-year-old daughter Alison play Saturday for a league at Fox Senior High School in Arnold, said a new facility will help fill a need for more indoor court space in the region. He said he’s also excited to attend his daughter’s games closer to home.

“There’s a need for more basketball facilities with great access to highways to continue the growth of youth basketball and volleyball in the area,” he said.

Susie Vreeland of Glendale, whose daughter Maria plays on the same team, said sports are a big priority in her family but she’s not overly concerned about having first-tier facilities as long as they’re enabling children to stay active. But she said she sees the economic benefit in having new sports complexes opening in the St. Louis region.

“To me, it doesn’t need to be state-of-the-art as long as they are properly run and readily available for youth sports,” she said. “Anything that can provide more jobs and opportunities for the kids, I’m for it.”