Dreaming of diamonds in Walworth County

Proposal for youth sports complex announced

By Mike Heine/The Week

Audio interview with reporter Mike Heine

(Published Dec. 14, 2006, 10:38 a.m.)

Take me out to the ball game. Take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks...

By 2008, Walworth County residents might not have to travel too far to do any of those summertime activities.

Chicago-based Intersport, a television production and event marketing company, wants to build a massive sports complex on 250 acres of county-owned land of County NN behind the law enforcement center, judicial center and Lakeland Health Care Center.

"We definitely would like to do it here," Intersport founder and CEO Charlie Besser told the executive committee Tuesday.

Early plans for the "Intersport Champions Village" call for a multi-phased project, with a $7.5 million initial investment to construct eight to 10 baseball diamonds and 25 player dormitories, said Dave Boblink, company chief financial officer. The venture is the first of its kind for Intersport.

The estimated economic impact for the greater Elkhorn area after phase one would be $6.3 million to $7.7 million, Boblink said.

Phase two would double the size of the baseball complex and add soccer fields, basketball courts and possibly areas for volleyball and lacrosse, said Steve Colombo, Intersport president of baseball operations.

A possible third phase could include the construction of a minor league baseball stadium, according to a concept package presented to the county.

The total economic impact on the area, once all phases are complete, could exceed $115 million annually, Boblink said.

"We're not asking to build a factory here, or a warehouse. We're talking about bringing kids and their families in to play sports," Besser said. "We think this could be the perfect community, if the community feels the same way."

The county board will examine the proposal for the next month. Intersport needs approvals from the county board for land deals and the Elkhorn City Council for zoning permits.

Land lease terms were negotiated with county officials, but not finalized.
Intersport has proposed a 99-year lease with an option to buy the land once the phases are completed, said Shane Crawford, deputy county administrator in charge of intergovernmental relations.

The proposal calls for Walworth County to lease 195 acres of what's now farmland for phase one at a cost of $180 per acre per year, which is $35 more per acre than the county gets now as leased corn and soybean fields. The annual lease payment would be $35,100.

After phase one is complete, Intersport could buy the land for $3,000 per acre or $585,000, if it wanted to, Crawford said.

A similar lease proposal was made for phase two, which includes 55 acres. Intersport could lease that land for $9,900 annually and then buy it for $165,000 once the phase is complete, Crawford said.

Lease payments would fluctuate annually in accordance with the Consumer Price Index, Crawford said.

Intersport officials said they had better business options elsewhere, but the location and community of Elkhorn made it the most desirable location.

"We'd love to do it here," said Besser, who owns a home on the Lauderdale Lakes Chain. "I think the community will be great. I think it will be perfect."

Former University of Wisconsin Athletics Director Pat Richter is on Intersport's Board of Advisors.

"I hope the people of Elkhorn feel just as well as we do," Richter told the executive committee.

Intersport plan by the numbers

-Intersport estimates there are 230,000 youth baseball teams in the United States, of which 40,000 are "traveling teams."

-The company projects there are 17,000 travel teams within a 12-hour drive of Elkhorn. Those teams would serve as the primary competing team.

-8.24 million U.S. children aged 7-17 play baseball with 3 million coming into the sport every year.

-Youth sports in the U.S. is a $4 billion annual industry.

-Each team has an average of 13 players and three coaches

-The fields would accommodate 24 teams for weeklong tournaments, culminating with a televised weekly tournament championship game.

-Each player brings an average of 2.5 people with them to the tournament-parents, grandparents, siblings, other relatives and friends.

-Parents spend $240 per day when traveling with their children. Average Wisconsin tourists spend $195 per day.

-Intersport projects 44,500 kids and coaches to visit the facility annually and 37,800 families per year once all three phases are complete.

* Facility would create 10 full-time jobs and 240-260 seasonal jobs for Walworth County.

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