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Sports tourism? Plan may serve our own, too

 

Mayor Derrick Freeman and the city of Port Arthur may be way behind when it comes to youth sports tourism. Rival cities like Baytown and Beaumont and even little Sulphur, Louisiana, 50 minutes east, may have the jump on him and this city. Their sports facilities are in place and their business is brisk when it comes to luring out-of-town sports tournaments.

Freeman and Port Arthur may be way ahead of themselves when it comes to youth sports tourism. There’s some promise of federal grants and private money headed this way, but the litany of community needs is long and pricy: roads, pipes, drainage. And should we even be talking before the checks arrive?

Or Freeman and Port Arthur may be positioning themselves well. Freeman, who has talked about youth sports tourism at least twice before City Council members — last week, he showed video — isn’t necessarily seeking expensive sports mega-sites. He’s pushing for excellence, though, perhaps in three, different sites around Port Arthur, where parks and playing fields might serve not only well-heeled out-of-towners, encouraging economic development in this city, but also our own young people.

The mayor is right on target when he talks about the difficulties Port Arthur is encountering in keeping up with 33 neighborhood parks. That’s a tall task and some of those passive sites are shabby, forlorn and unused. They don’t draw the locals, let alone eager travelers. That signals some need for change.

Port Arthur has some available land, too, especially in and around Staff Sgt. Lucian Adams Park, near St. Mary’s in the city’s core and out on Highway 73. That would put handsome facilities within reach of more people.

Freeman appreciates that to lure people in, they need an excellent product: smart, well-cared for facilities; city staff and locals who can help plan and promote youth sports tournaments; reasonable prices and ample, nearby accommodations. That means the Port Arthur Convention and Visitors Bureau, which would be tasked with promoting youth tournaments here, needs to know from the outset what the city is prepared to offer a paying public. Their input is vital, if the park plan is intended to compete for sports tourism with other, more established facilities elsewhere.

That means we must be sure we are offering facilities for the right sports, for the right audiences at the right prices. That takes preparation aplenty from the city’s side, with specific goals.

There may be money coming — Port Arthur, still staggering from Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey — has a shot at landing some big, private dollars that might aid an ambitious project. Multifaceted goals of luring new money, energizing local services industries and serving our own youngsters, pose the possibility of attractive outcomes.

It’s worth discussion. Maybe more.