Written by Brad Karger
Marathon County has been quite successful in hosting sports events and in spurring sports tourism . . .
Executive Director Richard Barrett and his team at the Wausau Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitors Bureau — together with staff at the Wausau and Marathon County Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department — have played an important role in supporting a multitude of local, state, and national sporting events, such as:
- Ragnar Relay (3,000+ runners participate in a footrace at Nine-Mile County Forest Recreation Area each September.)
- Wausau Marathon (This race begins and ends at Marathon Park and allows qualified runners to register for the Boston Marathon.)
- Badger State Games (This event includes a series of Olympic-style events for amateur athletes from all around Wisconsin.)
- Hmong Wausau Festival (This festival draws more than 10,000 visitors to the Eastbay Sports Complex each July to participate in soccer, volleyball, and other sports competitions; 2,100 hotel rooms were booked during the 2018 event.)
- Grand Prix of Wisconsin North American Powerboat Championship races (These races are held at Bluegill Bay County Park and feature tunnel hull catamaran power boats.)
Organizations outside our region — including the U.S. Sports Development Group (USSDG) — have taken note of our many successes and are now considering Marathon County as a possible site for a brand-new multipurpose sports and event center (see Maria Szatkowski’s story here that aired on WSAW-TV).
The USSDG, led by President and CEO Val Belmonte, is a group that works in support of the United States Olympic Committee in developing national interest in amateur sports and increasing opportunities for successful competition by our U.S. teams internationally. (Incidentally, Val’s “day job” is acting as the CEO of the Winston Knolls Education School, an academic organization for students with autism spectrum and related disorders.) Additionally, Val has had numerous leadership roles in amateur athletics, including:
- USA Figure Skating
- USA Fencing
- USA Hockey
When I asked Val what attracted the U.S. Sports Development Group to Marathon County, he responded:
“Targeting the Midwest of the United States was one of the key criteria for the project due to the central location of approximately 70% of the U.S. population within a 10-hour-drive radius. The Marathon County location had many of the key critical elements required for a successful project and demonstrated the concept of the U.S. Sports Development Group — as an entity that could use its mission-driven business model to create public / private / non-profit partnerships — was viable. In conversations with officials from Marathon County, the City of Wausau, and the other surrounding communities, the USSDG team determined that several essential elements were present:
- Community interest
- Support from local elected leaders and professional government staff
- Lack of nearby competing venues / complexes
- Local philanthropic and corporate partners
- Successfully hosting many key sports events
- A need for additional entertainment, conference, exhibition, and sports opportunities
- Strong event volunteer base
- And, more importantly, the wonderful people of Marathon County
As the project moves through the feasibility phase, the USSDG team believes that Marathon County, as well as Central Wisconsin, will eventually have its world-class sports and entertainment complex [emphasis added] and that the people of Marathon County and Central Wisconsin will enjoy it for generations to come.”
In order to determine whether a new event center in Marathon County has sufficient support and can work financially, the consulting firm of Victus Advisors has been selected to facilitate public engagement and to provide market analysis.
The feasibility study is expected to start early in 2019, with the results available by spring of 2019.
Conceptually, the multipurpose facility / event center will have capacity for:
- Hockey games and ice competitions, including seating for over 4,000 spectators
Additionally, the facility will have expandable capacity to:
- Over 5,000 spectators for dry floor events like court competitions, concerts, graduations, family shows, conventions, etc.
A secondary ice rink is also envisioned for youth hockey, figure skating, and varied recreational uses.
The proposed project will be a joint venture — a “hybrid approach.” Not 100% public; not 100% private, but a combination of public, private, and non-profit sectors working together.
An estimated total cost has not yet been established in this pre-development phase. Early location ideas include Downtown Wausau or the Wausau Metro Beltline.
I know I am. Maybe more than intrigued — call me hopeful. Excited, too!
We at Wisconsin Central Time NEWS will keep you informed on the progress of the feasibility study. MCDEVCO, a non-profit economic development agency with a close association with Marathon County, is one of the funders of the feasibility study, and they will keep County officials up to date on any new developments.
In closing, I asked Val, “Why are you so passionate about amateur athletics? What do you get out of all the time you invest in leading the U.S. Sports Development Group?” He shared:
“Amateur sports have given me the opportunity to pursue my passions as an athlete, educator, coach, athletic director, and sports executive. It has provided me a visual barometer, indicating where my potential lies . . . in my career, as a citizen, a person, and most importantly as a father.
USSDG provides me the vehicle to continue to devote myself to amateur athletics on a different stage, enabling me to give back . . . [to] make a profound impact in sports and the lives of individuals, as well as communities. [It’s] a commitment to invest in athletes / coaches / sports . . . providing a means to encourage the pursuit of excellence through ensuring access to recreational and elite sport resources and opportunities at all levels.
If USSDG can accomplish our goals through a variety of opportunities, athletes and coaches alike will aim high and dedicate themselves to achieving excellence on and off the playing field . . . just as important is being caring human beings and productive citizens.”
Let’s hope that our consultants can identify a pathway to make this sports and events center work financially. If approved, USSDG would apply to have the new facility designated as an Olympic Training Center, which could bring Olympic hopefuls here.
Just think . . .
WORLD-CLASS facilities and INTERNATIONAL-LEVEL Olympic sports competitions
could be coming to Marathon County!
Stay tuned for further details . . .
Marathon County Administrator
In his Administrator role, Brad Karger leads an organization with 700+ employees and an annual budget of more than $162 million. Brad has been in leadership positions with Marathon County for the past 30 years. He is known statewide for generating innovative ideas and solutions to problems, openness and transparency, and a commitment to community service that extends well beyond the normal workday. Email Brad Karger.
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