What's the attraction?
Sports venues, great location, and plenty of hotel rooms -- we've got it all, say those who want to turn Marlborough into a magnet for youth sports
There is more than one way to become a great sports town. Boston and Foxborough have done it by hosting winning teams that have excited the passions of fans.
Marlborough is taking a different approach.
Rather than seeking to bring in a professional franchise, city officials and local business operators are pooling resources to tap into the multibillion-dollar youth sports industry and help fuel the region's economic engine.
"I think we have a great avenue for future tournaments, and hopefully for making Marlborough the youth sports capital of New England," said Robert Katz, a former city councilor.
Katz and others are seeking to piggyback off the success of hockey tournaments at the New England Sports Center, a privately owned complex with five indoor hockey rinks, and hope to turn the city into a mecca for youth sports.
Katz and partner Robert Kane - who ran a professional senior golf tournament in Marlborough in the 1980s and now lives in Worcester - have formed an organization called the Marlborough Sports Partnership. Katz, who coaches local youth soccer teams, said their group is awaiting designation as a nonprofit organization. The part nership would coordinate large sports tournaments, with the goal of boosting the local economy and providing more competition for local athletes, the organizers said.
"We have a lot of youth sports organizations that are very active, so we'll try to pull everybody together for the benefit of the kids," Kane said. "The economic benefit is an offshoot of that." Kane said the events also will give local organizations a chance to "get funds into their coffers" by selling food or helping out with parking.
Organizers hope to kick off their effort with a basketball tournament in April, followed by a soapbox derby for adults in the summer. More tournaments will be added after the expected opening this year of another privately and locally owned youth sports venue, the ForeKicks II indoor and outdoor fields facility, Katz said.
The concept of turning the city into a premier youth sports destination, Katz said, was inspired by Wes Tuttle, general manager at New England Sports Center. The tournaments held at Tuttle's facility often help fill hotel rooms and restaurant seats on weekends in a city with few other tourist draws, Katz said.
"Candidly, the hotels do very well during the week," drawing from all of the businesses along Interstate 495, Katz said. "But on the weekends, they have space available. The best way to fill it is with events, events such as sports."
Tuttle said he brought to the area around 1,500 or 1,600 hockey teams, some from as far away as Vancouver and San Diego, for about 25 tournaments last year. The average team brings about 40 to 50 people, including players, coaches, and family members, he said.
"The hockey part has really worked well," Tuttle said. "It's been a good thing for the rink, the restaurants, the hotels, and the community. There are weekends that are open where we might be able to replicate the hockey with something else."
"It's a great boon for the community," said Arthur Vigeant, president of the Marlborough City Council. "The hotel rooms and the restaurants are filled when Wes has one of his big tournaments. You see hockey players all over."
The sports partnership is still in its infancy, but local business owners say they're all for its goal of bringing more people to the area.
"The more the better," said Michael Kennedy, general manager of Kennedy's Restaurant and Market. Hockey tournaments sometimes bring in business during the midafternoon or late evening, he said, when seats in his restaurant otherwise would be empty.
"I know the restaurants are all on board," Kennedy said. "They all benefit to some extent."
Gerald Seymour, who manages Wildwood Steakhouse on the opposite side of the city from the hockey complex, said that even he sees increased business on tournament weekends, and hopes to see more. "It's a plus. I can't see it being a minus."
"I think it's phenomenal," said Susanne Morreale-Leeber, president of the Marlborough Regional Chamber of Commerce. "They go to the mall, they patronize our movies and our retail outlets. The youth sports is a win-win."
Marlborough officials also expressed enthusiasm for the idea. The city relies on a room tax from its 1,300 or so hotel rooms for about $1.2 million in revenue annually, said the city's comptroller and treasurer, Tom Abel.
"It also gives our kids competition on a higher level," said City Councilor Edward Clancy. "Teams come from all over the country."
The sports group raised about $10,000 through a carnival last summer, Katz said, and once it attains nonprofit status, he plans to seek more funding. Eventually, he hopes that the organization will raise the approximately $25,000 it will cost to run the sports tournaments.
Katz also said that he hopes to attract a board of directors made up of people with youth sports contacts around the state, to help draw teams into local tournaments.
"We've got to get our feet wet and get all the kinks worked out, and then hopefully expand past Massachusetts," he said.
Some existing city facilities could serve as venues for large events, Katz said. Basketball tournaments could be held at the high school gymnasium or in parking lots, for example. Eventually, he said, he would like to see the city replace some of its public playing fields with synthetic turf, which could be used during bad weather.
The Forekicks II facility on Forest Street will offer two outdoor turf fields when it opens for business this summer. Plans also call for seven indoor turf fields and two indoor basketball courts.
Tom Teager, president and CEO of ForeKicks, said he will run three tournaments during the fall and winter, as he does at the original ForeKicks facility in Norfolk. He also will add two tournaments during the warmer part of the year, he said. League play will last year-round, he said, bringing business to area restaurants and stores even when he isn't filling up hotel rooms.
"I think every sport is expanding," Teager said. "The single-season sports just don't seem to exist anymore. As each of those different youth sports groups expands and grows, New England having the weather it has, indoor space becomes a premium."
And, for every youth athlete seeking a good venue, Tuttle said, a mother, father, sister, and brother end up spending money in town.
"They like to travel as a group, travel as a family," Tuttle said. "In any sport, people have a passion. A regular person wouldn't think that becomes a driver to the economy."