A new buzzword has quietly entered Prince William County’s lexicon: sports tourism. It keeps popping up. The proposed bond referendum includes a tourism and indoor sports complex in eastern Prince William and an indoor athletics field house in western Prince William.
The United States Tennis Association Mid-Atlantic Section is building a headquarters and state-of-the-art tennis facility at Innovation Park near Manassas. Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, called it a new tourism recreation destination.
Tough Mudder is perhaps the best example of the county’s attempt to promote sports tourism. We saw how that worked out. The use of Silver Lake Park in Haymarket was done without public hearing, community input or publicity. The park was closed to the public on Memorial Day weekend, “dug up,” and significantly altered to support this event. The local community was caught unaware, and not happy (a polite way of saying “outraged”) when they found the damage to their community park.
I dwell on this because Prince William’s government appears to be promoting sports tourism and Visit Prince William Virginia, the organization responsible for promoting tourism, is actively looking for more events.
The proposed bond referendums give us some clues into what is happening.
The mobility bond presentation pointed out that the county’s 2017 strategic plan identified mobility as a priority. I agree that we need transportation improvements. Our community agrees as well. Now, let’s flip to the park bond presentation. The strategic plan was not referenced. Sports tourism and sports complexes are not in the strategic plan.
The 2017 plan did identify other priorities. I am surprised that sports tourism destinations would be given priority over investments in identified strategic priorities such as quality education and workforce development, a safe and secure community, well-being, and a robust economy.
My point: Prince William government is quietly trying to change the character of our rural community by promoting “sports tourism,” building venues that would attract tourists, and actively marketing for more sporting events, while offering some of our most precious resources to companies perhaps not located here to attract people who don’t live here. Ever tried to drive near Jiffy Lube Live before or a er a concert? Imagine lots of Jiffy Lubes and you get my point.
The county conducted a 2019 needs assessment to ask residents which amenities are important, and which are not so important. The top four amenities identified by the community were:
1. Walking and biking trails, 43%
2. Natural wildlife habitats, 22%
3. Indoor fitness and exercise facilities, 20%
4. Large regional parks, 20% Residents should be allowed to vote on the things they identified in the 2019 assessment as important to them without having to accept something very different as part of the deal. As I said in my last column, there should be three bond referendums instead of two.
The indoor sports complex and athletics field house should be a separate bond referendum.
As a community, we also have to decide what we will look like in the future.
Do we really want to become a tourist destination and promote sports tourism?
This is a big change. Maybe our supervisors should ask us, perhaps hold a public hearing, or do another survey. Traffic is already tough with no real exit strategy for improvements. Why, exactly, would we want to attract people who don’t live here to contribute to the congestion?
Give Chairman Stewart and your supervisor your opinion. I just did.
Here’s an investment tip: We can expect matching t-shirts at future board of supervisors meetings. Invest in your local T-shirt vendor now.
Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week. You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.