ROCK SPRINGS — A group of residents, including many who are involved with youth athletics, are proposing a new indoor multiuse sports facility in Rock Springs and are hoping to secure sixth cent tax money to fund it.
They began working together in the spring of 2019 after Sweetwater County School District No. 1 announced the possibility of an increase in fees for the use of its facilities. Heather Anderson, spokesperson for the group, said that fees could be as high as $13,000 per year for the local wrestling club and $7,000 per year for girls basketball. Costs would have to be passed on to participants, keeping many from signing up to play who otherwise would.
Anderson works with girls softball and girls basketball in Rock Springs. At a meeting in August, she told the Sweetwater No. 1 board that the proposed fee increases would have a huge impact on her players, resulting in an additional $300 in registration fees for players, taking the cost from $50 to $350.
Those fees have been waived for the current school year, but Anderson said they are still a possibility.
School facility fees are not the only reason that the people involved have spent at least 150 volunteer hours in discussions, meetings and architect hours coming up with two options for a new indoor sports area. Other rationale includes the need for additional sports space during long stretches of inclement weather, making Rock Springs a destination city for state sports tournaments, and providing an alternative in case the Rock Springs Civic Center closes in the future. There are many gyms for adults but few areas available for youth, Anderson said. She said the average age in Sweetwater County is in the early 30s and families need resources. Having these types of facilities can also draw other young couples to the area.
The two possibilities that the group came up with were adding to the existing Rock Springs Family Recreation Center at a cost of $8.05 million or building a new facility adjacent to the RSFRC at a cost of $13.05 million. A new facility was chosen as the preferred project. While exploring funding options, they discovered that grants were not available unless other money had been secured. The possibility of sixth cent tax money came up in conversations. Anderson came before the Rock Springs City Council in September to request that the city sponsor the project along with its other specific purpose tax project proposals. Council members voted to approve the request with Councilman Rob Zotti and Councilwoman Glennise Wendorf voting against it.
The multiuse athletic center would be a 56,250 square-foot steel facility on the main level with a 6,000 square-foot mezzanine level. It would include three basketball courts, a full-size indoor track, a lofted area for wrestling mats, two activity rooms, office space, storage space, concessions and small locker rooms/bathrooms. The entrance would allow easy access for seniors, something the RSFRC doesn’t have. The building is designed to allow for additional expansion if needed.
City personnel would staff the facility and an average fee of $5 per visit would be charged. Project documents include an estimate that an average of 300 people would use the facility daily between Monday and Thursday of the winter season, including: 120 youth per night in the gyms consisting of four one-hour practice slots with 10 players per team per court; 50 adults and seniors on the indoor track; 75 youth per night on wrestling mats; and 50 adults taking classes during the day.
Estimated annual operating costs would be $150,000 for additional staff, $100,000 for utilities and $50,000 for maintenance. At an average rate of $5 per visit, revenue would be $1,500 per day or $450,000 per year based on 300 days of usage. The amount would cover operating costs, according to the proposal.
With estimated monthly collections of $1.5 million in sixth cent tax revenues, the facility would be paid for in 8.7 months.
In a letter to the Rock Springs mayor and City Council, Anderson estimated that the new facility could bring in $375,000 to area businesses during one weekend of a state sports tournament at the new facility.
Youth sports are a significant part of Wyoming’s travel and tourism industry, according to the letter. Anderson said that during the state softball tournament hosted by Rock Springs in 2017, more than 50 teams and 500 families came for three nights and spent money on food, lodging, gas, retail and entertainment. These types of tournaments could be hosted during the winter months with the new facility. Most local teams are now forced to go out of the area to Gillette, Casper, Laramie and Cheyenne to compete, Anderson said.
“Why should we continue to fill their coffers and not ours?” she asked.
Tournaments could bring adults as well, Anderson said. The Gillette Complex now hosts cornhole tournaments for adults in the winter.
Anderson said her efforts on behalf of the proposed facility aren’t because she has children in youth sports. She is looking to the future, not only for her family but others as well. Anderson’s daughter is no longer involved with youth sports and will likely be in college when and if the athletic center is built. Having great facilities here can draw back local youth, giving them another reason to return to Rock Springs to raise their families, Anderson said.
The group that has worked to plan the proposed facility consists of coaches, parents and other concerned residents, including Kayci Arnoldi; Melissa Thornhill; Shaun Carothers; Blaine Tate; heather Anderson; Kim Fouts; Travis Fouts; JJ Syvrud, who is the city contact; Warren Anderson; Will Wheatley; and Wendy Bider. Wheatley works at Plan 1 Architects and provided all the engineering estimates free of charge.
In the event that the proposed multiuse facility doesn’t pass as part of the county’s specific purpose tax initiative, the group does not intend to give up on the project. Heather Anderson said they will continue to explore options.
“You can’t just shut the door on the kids,” she said. “We will keep trying to find some other way.”