Picture about $32 million slipping through your fingers each year you have to turn down sports organizations that pick your community for athletic events.

Phil Smith, president and CEO of the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau, thinks he’s found a way to plug that hole. He’s got his eye on 54 acres in Lebanon that officials say could provide a gold mine in economic impact.

Think regional and national soccer tournaments, ultimate Frisbee championships, lacrosse matches and even Quidditch competitions on an abandoned well field at McClure Road and Ohio 63.

Now, Smith needs Lebanon City Council to donate the vacant land, which is adjacent to the city’s athletics complex. Council last month agreed to appraise the property in a first step toward turning the property over to the visitors bureau for the $3 million sports complex.

“We know it would be $32 million in economic impact for this project. Wherever we put our sports complex, economic development is going to ripple out from it,” Smith said.

The proposed site already is on the periphery of a segment of the Interstate 75 corridor in northwest Warren County that is expected to explode in the near future with new homes, medical offices, retail development and restaurants.

Lebanon City Manager Pat Clements said the city’s comprehensive plan calls for a former well field to be used eventually for an extension of the Lebanon Sports Complex.

The city quit using the wells in 2012 after it began purchasing water wholesale from Greater Cincinnati Water Works. City leaders had never pursued selling the property for commercial use because of the large amount of property available in the immediate area and the fact that it sits in a flood plain, Clements said. Officials figure the land is worth about $800,000.

The former well field would become home to 14 full-size multipurpose turf fields in the first phase of the sports complex, which also would include buildings for concessions, storage and restrooms, and parking.

At least eight ball fields would be developed at another time and at a yet-to-be-identified place in the second phase of the sports complex. There’s no room for baseball fields on the Lebanon property, Smith said.

‘There are so many events out there’

The convention and visitors bureau, which is largely funded by memberships, will acquire a bank loan to pay for developing the well field, Smith said.

The complex is meant to draw tournaments from outside Warren County, but it could be available for local teams who are hosting regional or national events, Smith said.

Tampa-based Crossroads Consulting, which was hired by the convention and visitors bureau to study the economic impact of the sports complex, estimated that the multipurpose fields could host 25 weekend events over 76 days a year. They would draw nearly 248,000 athletes and their families each season to book hotels, spend money at local restaurants, shops and attractions such as Kings Island amusement park, the report said.

Lebanon and its merchants would draw about one-third of the overall estimated $32.3 million in annual economic impact from the complex.

Smith said the Warren County complex along with Butler County’s sports complex being developed at Voice of America MetroPark in West Chester Township would position the suburbs to become a mecca for regional and national athletic events.

“There are so many events out there that VOA together with this now puts us at a different level for certain events,” Smith said.

Sports tourism is a big draw for local communities, attracting an estimated $8.3 billion in economic impact nationwide in 2013, according to the National Association of Sports Commissions. Even while the economy was in distress, people spent more to attend out-of-town youth athletic events, a 2012 report by the association said. For instance, visitors spent more than $7.6 billion on sports travel in 2011, which was a 6.5 percent jump from the previous year, according to the report.

The initial phase of Butler County’s sports complex – 22 multipurpose fields – is scheduled to open for tournament play in 2014. MetroParks also received $1 million in state money to put artificial turf on some fields.

The park system is trying to raise $24 million to build ball fields, a concession stand, concert venue and other amenities at the complex.

Bureau officials have talked about new complex for years

Right now, Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau “borrows” publicly owned playing fields from local communities, Smith said.

For instance, the USA Ultimate Division-I College Championships were played at Mason’s Heritage Oak Park and Mason High School over the Memorial Day weekend.

The availability of community fields is limited, though. They are available only when communities don’t already have them booked for their own athletic events, Smith said.

Bureau officials have been talking for years about the need for a sports complex. Finding the Lebanon site comes months after the bureau’s push fell through to build the sports complex on the county fairgrounds after Lebanon Raceway abandoned it for a move to the new Miami Valley Gaming racino off Interstate 75 in Turtlecreek Township.

The sports complex idea lost out to the concept of an equestrian events center and an exposition hall at the fairgrounds for corporate business meetings, trade shows, concerts, banquets and festivals.

That focus would still allow enough parking for the county fair each July on the green space there, which would have been eaten up by athletic fields at a sports complex, Warren County Commissioner Pat South said.

“It is an excellent project,” said South, who is on a committee to recommend ideas for redevelopment of the fairgrounds.

“But they realized they couldn’t guarantee the type of revenue that would normally be expected when you are consuming that much land and having to accommodate other uses. You can’t park on ball fields. You damage them.” ⬛

What’s next at the Warren County Fairgrounds?

The Warren County Fairgrounds just outside downtown Lebanon used to be the home to Lebanon Raceway.

Since that moved north to the Miami Valley Gaming racino last year, a county-appointed committee is working to recommend how to redevelop the 97.5 acres in a way that would allow the fair to remain there but still make money.

An electrical analysis now is underway in a plan to turn the fairgrounds into an exposition and events center to host equestrian events, corporate trade shows and meetings, as well as fairs, concerts and festivals, said Warren County Commissioner Pat South, who is on the redevelopment committee.

“Once we get the electrical analysis, that will help us define whether or not the grandstands are salvageable in part or whole and what kind of renovation costs are required,” she said. “Other than that it’s upgrades and renovation to the other (buildings).”

Warren County, which owns the fairgrounds, expects to receive $4.5 million – $1.5 million in racetrack redevelopment money from the state and another $3 million from Miami Valley Gaming – to redevelop the fairgrounds.

Warren County had hoped to receive a total of $6 million, with $3 million coming from the state. But the state recently set restrictions on how much publicly owned former racetracks would receive of the state funding available.

South said she did not yet know when the proposed redevelopment plan would be considered by the whole committee for a possible recommendation to Warren County commissioners.