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Planned Rock Hill indoor sports complex could reach ‘untapped market’

An indoor sports complex in Rock Hill will attract nearly 200,000 tourists annually, inject $10 million into the local economy and keep Rock Hill competitive with cities such as Charlotte, Myrtle Beach and Charleston, according to the city’s sports commission.

John Gettys, chairman of the commission, laid out a plan Tuesday to create a 170,000-square-foot indoor sports building in downtown Rock Hill that he said would allow the city to take advantage of an “untapped market” in sports tourism.

“It’s a market that’s not been serviced yet,” said Gettys. “It’s something that York County doesn’t do now, and we’re missing the opportunity by not having it.”

Outdoor sports facilities such as the Rock Hill Velodrome, Manchester Meadows and Cherry Park have allowed the area to bring in $144 million over the last decade, according to the commission’s estimates.

A building that can be used 52 weeks a year would attract tourists for hotels and restaurants, and would allow Rock Hill to attract more national events and championships, Gettys said. The proposal would give Rock Hill the largest facility of its kind in the Carolinas.

John Taylor, director of Rock Hill’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department, said the indoor sports facility would be the lynchpin to the success of the University Center/ Knowledge Park area.

The long-term project, which would also feature retail space, student housing and a hotel, is expected to create a harmonious relationship between Winthrop University and the Rock Hill community.

Taylor said the facility would likely open doors for more hotel rooms to be built in York County, in order to keep hospitality tax dollars within the area.

“If we don’t get this down and hotels built, some of that economic impact is going to go to south Charlotte,” he said. “If the goal is to make more opportunities for new residents, we can’t go build a baseball complex in Smyrna, because you’re just transferring people from one field to the other.”

Building new markets for revenue is key, according to the sports commission. Officials say they’ve identified 52 different types of events an indoor facility can attract and host, including basketball, volleyball and pickleball.

City officials and sports commission representatives recently toured similar indoor facilities in Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach and Charlotte to gain insight on what a Rock Hill facility would need to attract events during the winter months, such as wrestling, pingpong and kickball.

The commission says the sports tourism industry in Rock Hill generated around $21 million in economic impact in 2015. The commission estimates the building could boost those numbers by 50 percent. The proposal says 172,000 tourists would visit the area annually, citing a “conservative estimate.”

The price tag is about $25 million, according to Gettys. Close to $22.5 million of that figure could get bonded through the city of Rock Hill, according to the commission’s chairman. Under Gettys’ proposal, the remaining $2.5 million would be paid through hospitality tax at a rate of $500,000 per year for five years.

The facility would cost about $700,000 in annual operating expenses with an estimated $500,000 in annual event revenue, according to the commission. Officials said the shortfall would be absorbed partly through Rock Hill’s hospitality tax.

Gettys said he will meet with the City Council in October or November to lay out the plan.

“I know it’s a lot of money,” said Gettys, “but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what we could be seeing.”

Building an indoor complex at this time would keep Rock Hill on the forefront of the national scene, compared to other cities like Charleston and Charlotte, said Taylor. The city’s close proximity to Charlotte would allow it to be an option for collegiate events through as the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big South Conference, he said.

Taylor and Gettys said the city has benefited from the the Rock Hill Velodrome, which has hosted several national events.

The Novant Health BMX Supercross Track will play host to the 2017 BMX Supercross World Championships next summer. Officials estimate it will bring in $13 million to the local economy, with 3,300 athletes and coaches and 20,000 spectators over week.

It will be the first time since 2001 that those championships are held in the United States, said Gettys.

“Five years ago, no one on the East Coast had this type of facility,” he said. “We’re so far out in front, we can be able to lock up tournaments.”

David Thackham: 803-329-4066, @dthackham

What we know

The Rock Hill Sports Commission says the proposed indoor sports facility would:

  • Open an “untapped” market of sports tourism, including indoor sports and other events that could be planned without regard to weather
  • At 170,000 square feet, it would be the largest facility of its kind in both North or South Carolina
  • Attract 172,000 tourists annually and bring in about $10 million annually, according to “conservative estimates”
  • Be built in Rock Hill’s proposed University Center, once home to the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co.
  • Cost about $25 million. $22.5 million of that figure could get bonded through the city of Rock Hill, according to Rock Hill Sports Commission chairman John Gettys. The remaining sum would be paid through hospitality tax at a rate of $500,000 per year for five years
  • If approved by city and county officials, the facility could open in the spring of 2018
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