Lacrosse players compete at River City Sportsplex.
Since it was acquired by the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority (EDA) in 2016, River City Sportsplex has become the linchpin of the county’s thriving sports tourism sector – generating millions of dollars in local economic impact and tax revenue by bringing in thousands of out-of-town visitors annually for youth lacrosse, soccer and field hockey tournaments.
And yet, in many ways the 115-acre Genito Road athletic complex is still just scratching the surface of its potential, both as a tourism destination and as a quality of life asset that gets about 60% of its use from Chesterfield residents.
“It’s a tremendous facility that directly benefits our community and it’s the front door to Chesterfield for many visitors,” said Matt Harris, deputy county administrator for finance and administration. “Making targeted investments to maintain and improve it is something we have to do.”
During a community meeting to be held on Thursday, Oct. 21 , 2021, at 6:30 p.m., Chesterfield Parks and Recreation will introduce a draft master plan for River City Sportsplex that aims to enhance the visitor and user experience, increase the facility’s overall attractiveness as a large-scale tournament host and provide additional recreation opportunities for county residents.
Chesterfield Planning also will present initial concepts for guiding future development in a special focus area around the intersection of Genito Road and State Route 288.
River City Sportsplex Master Plan and Genito/288 Special Area Plan Map Overviews.
People can ask questions or submit comments through Facebook Live during the meeting, which also will be streamed over the county’s YouTube channel and broadcast on its television station, Comcast channel 98 or Verizon channel 28.
Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a limited number of seats in the Public Meeting Room will be available to those who want to attend in person.
Chesterfield already has collected considerable public input via an online survey, receiving nearly 1,200 responses over a three-week period.
Capital improvements proposed in the River City Sportsplex master plan include construction of a splash park as part of a 1.5-acre destination playground, an adult fitness area with a rubberized track, a 5k multi-use trail, a picnic area with shelters and restrooms, and a multipurpose event building.
The plan also calls for installation of four new rectangular turf fields and conversion of an existing field into a 3,500-seat stadium, as well as a terraced hillside seating area and shade structures for players and coaches adjacent to each field.
“The Board of Supervisors’ continued investment in River City Sportsplex will maintain its position as a premier sports tourism destination on the east coast. It’s important to remember though, that River City is also a Chesterfield County park. Many of the proposed improvements are being made in direct response to citizen interests,” said Robert Smet, director of Chesterfield Parks and Recreation.
“Since its acquisition, the county has focused on both maximizing the economic impact of the venue and creating a place where families can spend their day. The Parks and Recreation Department is excited about what is to come and hopes others will be, too," added Smet.
Public and private entities in other states have built similar complexes in recent years, hoping to grab their own slice of the lucrative sports tourism pie.
It’s a $2 billion annual industry in the U.S., and it’s largely recession-proof; even during the global economic collapse of 2009, many American parents eschewed family vacations and curtailed other discretionary spending to save money for their children’s travel sports trips. In the process, they created a new concept known as tournacations.
Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Chesterfield hosted 48 sports tourism events in fiscal year 2021, which ended June 30, 2021. Those events attracted more than 180,000 visitors and generated an estimated economic impact of $32.2 million.
County leaders are aware that other facilities are trying to entice the operators of youth sports tournaments to leave Chesterfield and bring those dollars to their area.
“It’s a competitive space, no question,” Harris said.
While Chesterfield has upgraded parking and other infrastructure over the past five years, there still isn’t much to do at the sportsplex – or even in the surrounding Genito Road corridor -- unless you’re an athlete or coach using one of its 12 synthetic turf playing fields.
By bringing restaurants, entertainment and hotels into that area, county leaders hope to capitalize on heavy visitor traffic at River City Sportsplex, create synergy with a surf park-anchored private-sector development planned on the west side of Route 288 and keep more sports tourism dollars in Chesterfield.
Tax revenue generated by such commercial development, in turn, would help Chesterfield significantly defray the cost of operating the sportsplex for daily use by county residents.
The county’s Genito/288 special focus area plan will include a proposed land-use map and establish development standards for future projects within a 437-acre boundary – including the 47-acre former Southside Speedway property that was acquired by the EDA in June.
Chesterfield is still considering a variety of potential uses for that site.
“A special focus area is a long-range plan that provides more detailed development guidance to areas with high potential for land-use change,” said Andrew Gillies, director of Chesterfield Planning. “These areas typically need more guidance on strategies for the redevelopment of key properties, through detailed design guidelines and placemaking strategies, than the countywide comprehensive plan can provide.
“Through the special focus area process, the county has an opportunity to get out in front of redevelopment and establish a strategy that builds off the success and draw of River City Sportsplex, and recognizes the history and heritage of Southside Speedway,” Gillies added.