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JoCo Parks and Rec mulls field renovations to keep tourney money flowing

Posted at 8:42 PM, Jun 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-14 23:39:57-04

SHAWNEE, Kan.  — The Johnson County. Kansas, Parks and Recreation District wants to spruce up its soccer and softball fields in the Mid-America West Sports Complex in Shawnee and Heritage Park in Olathe.

JoCo Parks and Rec leaders fear sports tournaments may relocate in the future because of the aging facilities.

"We heard that the tenants are leaving because of the conditions of the facilities, both the field conditions and some of the amenities," Johnson County Parks and Recreation Executive Director Jill Geller said.

The repairs will cost $70 million to $80 million to upgrade natural grass surfaces to artificial turf. The funding could come from user fees, the private sector or a re-arranging in JoCo Parks and Rec's budget.

According to Geller, about three years ago the county had more than 1.1 million visitors use their sports facilities, a figure that now has dropped to around 870,000.

"We've had a lot of use with these fields and its taken its toll," Geller said.

Dozens of teams from across the country were in town Friday for the Top Gun softball tournament at the Mid-America West Sports Complex.

Johanna Fiehweg and her family were visiting from Wisconsin. She thinks the fields could be in better shape.

"The outfield this year is really bad," she said. "Girls are slipping, getting hurt falling, and I know it's been a rainy season, but we've paid $10 apiece every day to come here."

The idea of replacing the grass with artificial turf drew positive reviews from players.

"When it rains, it gets muddy and then your feet get all clunked with dirt and it's hard to get them off and then the mud tracks everywhere," softball player Lexi Dryden from Wichita said. "It's just a mess."

Geller said the tournaments bring in approximately $10 million for the local economy and believe, with the propsed changes, could see that figure jump to $40 million dollar.

Of course, it could be years before the fields are renovated and that becomes a reality, Geller said.