Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist, Aim
Westfield’s premier sports hub, Grand Park, stands as the largest facility of its kind in the country – and is playing a key role in providing the suburban community with a strong and growing economy.
And the role will only expand with this month’s announcement that Grand Park will serve as the Indianapolis Colts training camp facility for the next 10 years.
Ahead of the Colts announcement, the city celebrated another step in realizing its vision of tapping into the vast family travel sports – and now pro-sports – industry. In 2016, the city opened a 370,000 square-foot indoor event center to complement Grand Park’s outdoor baseball and softball diamonds and soccer fields.
The sports campus, which in 2016 brought in nearly 1 million visitors and is on track to surpass those numbers this year, is the result of city leaders asking themselves: “What can Westfield do to be unique,” Mayor Andy Cook said. The answer: Grow Westfield’s commercial tax base by focusing on recreational sports and incentivizing hotel and other tourism development around the 400-acre site.
“I heard 3,000 times if I build it, they will come,” Cook said. “We knew that people would come. Our challenge and our risk was, ‘Will the private sector build the taxpaying hospitality industry around the campus?’”
The investment is paying off. In the four years since Grand Park began operations, the facility has directly or indirectly generated more than $500 million in commercial investment, including several hotels, Cook said. That figure represents projects completed, under construction or in the pipeline. Sports-related businesses also are popping up in conjunction with the site, including Methodist Sports Medicine and an OrthoIndy.
“It’s more than paying its way with those kinds of figures,” Cook said. “If you visit a lot of these types of facilities across the country, they are shoehorned into industrial areas, and we wanted this to have raw ground around it to build the hospitality industry. What makes us special is being able to hold large tournaments in one location with food and lodging right next door.”
Now, Cook is being approached by cities across the country asking about Westfield’s model. He tells them the recipe for success is finding land in an appropriate location at an appropriate price, and to concentrate on gaining buy-in.
“It’s a huge political challenge,” Cook said, “and if you’re not up for the political challenge, don’t even think about trying to do this.”
But the work, Cook said, is worth it. City leaders say the benefits of Grand Park have extended beyond the campus. The city has seen a flurry of new restaurants, and runs a shuttle on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays so people can access different Westfield destinations. A new basketball academy also located near Grand Park.
“The visitors experience is very rich,” City Council President Jim Ake said.
And so is the experience for Westfield residents. Cook usually gets the same answers when he asks residents why they chose Westfield – the schools, the trails and the environment Grand Park creates in the city.
“The biggest value for our citizens is the impact it has had on sports teams,” Cook said. “They are really fields of dreams for these kids. It’s amazing to see their enthusiasm out there and the hard work and the comradery.”