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Youth sport goal needs broad focus


The process Mayor Tom Henry used to determine how to invest the $75 million Legacy Fund has been lengthy and exhaustive, and it has served the community well. Still, is commissioning yet another study reasonable when residents are eager to see concrete results?

Spending Legacy money on a youth sports study could be prudent as long as the final cost of the study comes in well below the maximum approved by City Council and the goals of the study are clear.

Unfortunately, the goal as described in the city’s request for a study proposal says nothing of using sports to build character, skills and teamwork among local youths. Instead, it focuses exclusively on bringing more people to Fort Wayne.

“The goal … is to provide community stakeholders and decision makers with a realistic road map to becoming a nationally and regionally recognized destination for youth/prep sports and strengthening the youth/prep sports tourism market,” it reads.

Consider that when the Legacy Task Force first mentioned youth sports as a primary focus two years ago, it was part of a broad area concerning “youth development,” including the arts as well as sports.

Henry clearly hopes to make Fort Wayne a regional – if not a national – center for youth sports. Doing so is supposed to boost economic development and increase recreational opportunities for young residents.

The two goals are not mutually exclusive, but for the study to be constructive, it needs to define priorities. The study also needs to reveal a clear strategy to achieve those objectives.

The mayor has wisely called on Al Moll, the city’s director of parks and recreation, to shepherd the youth sports initiative.

City officials released the request for proposals last week with a March 21 deadline. They plan on selecting a consultant in mid-April and estimate the study will take six months to complete.

In December, the Fort Wayne City Council approved spending up to $200,000 for the study, though Moll believes the final price tag will be less.

The study will include a complete inventory of all the existing public and private sports facilities and programs and an analysis of current efforts to market those assets. It will look at national trends in youth sports and market potential. The study will also evaluate community needs and potential opportunities.

Certainly, Fort Wayne has a number of venues that already bring many visitors, and those could well be enhanced. Moll is hoping to learn what the community is already doing well and where it should look to partner with the private sector.

He pointed to a project to offer more sports for people with disabilities at Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities as an example.

But the goals set for Legacy Fund projects are already heavy on economic development, and to focus on making youth sports just another form of attracting tourists is, while promising, simply not enough. When developing the final contract for the study, the city should also expect proposals to help local youths. Fortunately, the City Council has already approved spending $2 million in Legacy Fund money to renovate the old McMillen Ice Arena into a community center with indoor sports.

That should not be the only youth sports project aimed toward local residents.