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What better Legacy than kids and baseball?

Fort Wayne’s World Baseball Academy, a local not-for-profit, organized and managed youth Hoosier Classic baseball tournaments this summer that generated $1,073,512 in tourism economic impact for Fort Wayne, according to the formula for impact provided by Visit Fort Wayne.

This is the third straight year that WBA tournaments have had a million- dollar impact on our local economy.

More than 160 baseball teams from the Midwest and Canada came to Fort Wayne for WBA weekend tournaments between April and August.

The WBA has been holding Hoosier Classic tournaments in Fort Wayne since 2003. While encouraged by 6 percent growth this year, the WBA believes that it could see 100 percent growth once Fort Wayne invests in new fields at the WBA’s home, the Ash Centre athletic complex at 1701 Freeman St.

As a former youth baseball coach, I was always impressed by the manner in which the WBA operated its tournaments at the Ash Centre.

When we would participate in the tournaments, I frequently had discussions with other coaches about the great potential for Fort Wayne if only the Ash Centre facilities could be substantially upgraded. The tournaments were in a great location; they were very organized; and they were well managed, but the facilities simply lagged way behind those facilities in other Indiana, Michigan and Ohio communities hosting similar events.

Now there is a plan in place to improve the Ash Centre facilities and make Fort Wayne a hub for regional youth baseball activities, just like it has become a destination for youth basketball, volleyball and hockey events.

The renovation plan for the Ash Centre complex has received a recommendation for significant investment through the Legacy Fund review process.

Four new ball fields would be designed for durability and cost-effective maintenance, allowing for extensive use with affordable operational costs.

Construction would occur in two phases.

During Phase 1, three baseball fields would be built and would be constructed in a manner that allows for variable-sized infields, which are necessary if you want to host tournaments for age groups that range from 8 to 18.

The fields will include artificial surface infields, new lighting and other important upgrades, including vastly improved dugouts.

Phase 2 of construction will include a collegiate-size ballfield with artificial surface and lighting.

The largest Hoosier Classic tournament this past season hosted 28 teams over the course of three days. When Phase 1 is complete, the WBA will be capable of hosting 48 to 64 teams in a single weekend.

It will be able to accommodate these much larger tournaments as a result of its newly renovated complex and thanks to the great working relationships it has with area high schools and universities.

Although the competition is increasing every year from other communities’ new facilities, the WBA’s experience demonstrates that a central hub with high-quality playing surfaces, combined with the WBA’s experience as a tournament planner, will compete very well and be sustainable into the future.

When Phase 1 is completed, it is believed that tournament participation will increase by more than 100 teams per year, and economic impact will rise by nearly a half million dollars – and that’s just in the first year after construction is completed.

The impact will only increase as Fort Wayne’s reputation in the travel baseball market improves as a result of the quality fields, which will give the WBA a key competitive advantage.

The WBA expects that participation could rise to 255 teams per year for the first three years after construction, 315 teams per year for years four through seven, and 350 teams per year in years eight through 10.

Further projections indicate that up to $20 million in additional economic impact could occur over the first 10 years, spurred by the $1.6 million in Legacy investment.

Such return on investment is driving many communities to invest millions into youth sports facilities … just ask any of our local travel baseball families who are driving to those cities that have nice facilities, staying in their hotels, and eating in their restaurants.

This is why the youth baseball project has captured attention in public discussions for more than three years.

The plan emerged first as one of the highest-rated recommendations of the original Legacy process, which led to the Legacy Youth Sports Task Force reviewing the plan and recommending $2 million in Legacy funding, saying the proposal “fulfills the recommendation of the Legacy Fort Wayne Task Force by expanding our existing resources, allowing increased access to youth/prep sports in our community and attracting tourism and economic development dollars to our community.”

Next, the city paid for a consultant to conduct a market study on youth sports. The study recommended that “Fort Wayne should seek to improve current baseball/softball facilities to meet existing demand, while also pursuing future public-private investment in new, larger baseball/softball facilities.”

Now the city is creating a new process to review ideas for Legacy funding, using the same criteria that has already been applied to this project.

The new process allows the mayor or City Council to consider Legacy investment proposals “directly through legislation based on the present circumstances.” This seems like the best option for a proposal that has already been reviewed multiple times.

I know of no other proposal for youth baseball, let alone a proposal that promises more access to great playing surfaces for local teams and operates with a sustainable business model so that taxpayer support is not needed for operations. Let’s make a premier youth baseball complex a reality sooner rather than later. I join the WBA in urging City Council and our mayor to support this project now, so matching funds can be raised for the project and construction can possibly occur as early as next year.