Recreation becoming a business around the lake
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – The Town of Cornelius will open the Westmoreland Athletic Complex on Saturday, July 7 – a park that has been a very long time in coming.
The park, which includes four baseball/softball diamonds, a playground, a concession stand and bathrooms, started out in 2004 as a private project by local business leaders. Plans fell apart, though, and the town eventually assumed the lead on the project.
Current recreation director Troy Fitzsimmons took over in 2008 and got construction going on the 8430 Westmoreland Road park in March 2010. Since then, he said, it’s moved at a pretty steady rate.
Fitzsimmons thinks the park can serve multiple roles for Cornelius, including providing more recreation space for local and statewide play.
Fitzsimmons said the park will be booked at least 32 weekends a year for tournament play.
“Everyone from our parks commission to the town board was very supportive of this,” Fitzsimmons said. “We’re looking to open up even more opportunities with it.”
Fitzsimmons said the complex will bring some much-needed relief to the town’s growing recreational needs. Currently, Cornelius has baseball/softball availability at Bailey Road, Legion, Torrence Chapel and Smithville parks.
“We do need some more space,” he said. “Really this park was built to bring in tournaments to Cornelius, but we’re also seeing a growing need in our recreational program. This will help alleviate some of the pressure at the other parks.”
Alleviating pressure is one thing, but Travis Dancy said another park will also fuel the economic landscape of the lake.
Dancy, the sports sales manager at Visit Lake Norman, is responsible for recruiting state and local tournaments to area parks.
“Sports tourism is our biggest market as far as the events we look to recruit,” Dancy said. “It’s very safe to say that the sports tourism market has gotten a lot more attention over the last few years.”
Dancy said sports tourism was one of the few industries that thrived during the recent recession. Westmoreland is expected to generate just shy of $5 million per year.
“During the heart of the recession a lot of other tourism markets were scaled back,” Dancy said. “I think sports tourism was recession resistant, specifically with youth.
Recreation as an economic tool
The opening of the $3.2 million Westmoreland complex doesn’t just signify Lake Norman’s newest park.
It’s the continuation of a recent trend that has turned recreation into an economic motor for the lake.
Including Mooresville’s opening of Mazeppa Park in September and Cornelius Park in January, Westmoreland is the third major park opening in the last year around the lake.
“You have to look at these parks as an economic development project for your community,” Ron Johnson, chairman of the Mooresville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. “It helps everyone.”
Johnson said the hotel business was one of the primary beneficiaries during the 2011 Lake Norman Soccer Club Fall Classic held at Mazeppa Park. The Thanksgiving weekend tournament brought more than 4,000 visitors to the area and gave 1,200 room reservations to Mooresville hotels, Johnson said.
But recreation doesn’t only help businesses, Johnson said. It can also lend a helping hand to taxpaying citizens.
“Every tournament you have at that park, they’re paying a fee,” Johnson said. “Basically if you have enough tournaments you could get enough income to take care of the maintenance for the parks. That could mean less taxes.”
The Lake Norman area landed a major event in December when it was announced that it will be home to the Powerade State Games in 2013 and 2014.
Visit Lake Norman hosted the youth baseball, softball and soccer portions of the games in June 2010, generating almost $2.2 million in visitor spending for Cornelius, Huntersville and Davidson.
Fitzsimmons said joining with other town recreation departments to bring in additional tournaments could only increase interest in the lake.
“We’ll definitely be talking to some other recreation departments to get some of these larger events to the lake,” Fitzsimmons said.