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Smith’s Ballpark reuse plan as women’s sports center shows promise

Salt Lake BeesSalt Lake City’s thoughtful approach to potential reuses of Smith’s Ballpark, home of the Salt Lake Bees (Triple-A; Pacific Coast League), may have yielded a home run with a proposal to convert the ballpark and some surrounding acreage to a women’s sports center.

We covered the public vote here. Take a look at the submitted plans here; we noted that a proposal to convert the ballpark to a women’s sports complex was intriguing. Ballpark reuse is a tricky subject; no one wants to tear down an old ballpark, but finding a reuse is hard. (We covered the topic in some depth here.)

Apparently others feel the same way, including Stephen Maisch, an associate professor at the University of Utah who teaches a class on sports economics. His argument echoes many made within the sports industry (and seems rather obvious to us): women’s sports is on the rise and could be the next big thing within the industry:

Could one of these women’s sports be the NFL of the 1970s? The demand for women’s sports, particularly women’s soccer, is only getting bigger. The 2019 Women’s World Cup final between the United States and Netherlands in France drew 14.3 million U.S. viewers. (By comparison, the 2018 Men’s World Cup Final had 11.4 million U.S. viewers.) On the mainland, from 2016 to 2018, the U.S. women’s soccer team generated more revenue at the gate than did the male side over the same time period. Interest in the women’s squad only seems to be increasing, sales of the 2019 jersey were 500% higher than the 2015 jerseys.

Demand for women’s sports is not limited to soccer. Deloitte Insights reports that, when looking globally, “66% of people were interested in at least one women’s sport, and among sports fans (of whom 49% are female), that figure rises to 84%”.

The plan from Maven District, Colmena & Kimball Investment Co., represented by Tessa Arneson would:

Our city can take a historic step toward addressing this disparity through the realization of a creative yet feasible vision. A field suitable for soccer, rugby, ultimate, and football would fit in the existing field footprint with only minor initial renovations, with virtually no period of inactivation of the stadium after the Bees depart. Further renovation to improve stadium sightlines, adjust seating, and incorporate peripheral micro-retail spaces could happen in phases as demonstrated by similar conversions of stadiums previously used for baseball. Although these teams already train and play year-round, retractable roofing or removeable doming could create more opportunities for wintertime use. While the parking lot could retain its current function, investment in a decked lot would offer opportunities to incorporate more greenspace, street sport courts, food truck lots, and festival space.

This investment in people would showcase traditionally underrepresented athletes’ talents, nurture their dreams, and create a training pipeline for their teams. Existing offices could be divided to serve multiple women’s sports organizations, with additional space to be utilized as a child care facility for athletes and community members. To broaden stadium revenue, some of the concession spaces currently only utilized on game days could be converted for use as commissary kitchens for start-up restaurants and food trucks, and kiosk space could house underserved local artists and businesses. To lower barriers of entry and ensure success, these entrepreneurs, tenant teams, and neighborhood businesses would be offered support from the Minority Business Development Agency, Mill Entrepreneurship Center, and capital investors who have already expressed enthusiasm for this vision.

Voting on the proposals is now closed. We’re eager to see if Salt Lake City can solve the old ballpark conundrum and is brave enough to take a chance on an unproven but potentially groundbreaking concept.

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