If you thought Omaha was big on youth sports clubs — well, it’s about to get bigger.
Two heavy-hitter youth athletic organizations are teaming up to help build a $10 million facility set to sprawl across 135,000 square feet and host up to 400,000 visitors a year.
A bank has even bought naming rights to what will be called the Union Bank & Trust Sports Complex.
Its claim to fame is not only its size, but its multisport facilities for burgeoning student athletics. Included are six basketball courts, eight volleyball courts and a 7,000-square-foot strength and agility area.
The Elkhorn location where the facility is rising was chosen for that area’s growing population and for its accessibility to sports enthusiasts in cities such as Lincoln, Wahoo and Fremont. It will be located north of West Dodge Road, between the Skyline and 204th Street exits.
Supporters expect the new home of Omaha Sports Academy and Nebraska Elite Volleyball to spawn economic development as well. In conjunction with existing facilities, officials say, the complex better positions Omaha to draw high-profile competitive youth sports events that, in turn, draw scouts and visitors.
That means filling more hotel rooms and restaurant tables. Indeed, the local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau reports that team sport athletes stay longer and spend more than conventiongoers. On average, an athlete comes with two others and together they spend $1,298 during the stay.
“This is a game-changer,” said Bob Franzese, general manager and co-owner of Omaha Sports Academy. “You can’t attract national-level competition without facilities. It’s not going to happen.”
Omaha Sports Academy, which focuses on basketball, joins Elite Volleyball in developing the complex slated to open this fall.
While the project aims to train and showcase young athletes, Elite director Tony Carrow said the design also considered fans.
“We wanted it to be the best spectator place in the Midwest, a great experience from the time you walk in and leave,” he said.
A mezzanine, with plenty of seating, will overlook playing courts. There will be a food concession area and a lounge where parents can grab a beer or a cocktail between games.
Parents can buy memberships allowing them to work out while their child practices. Owners also plan on-site physical therapy and an academic component where youths (for a price) can obtain tutoring or ACT preparation.
Ryan McCabe is among the parents counting down the minutes. With four basketball players under age 15 — twin boys age 10 and two girls, ages 12 and 14 — McCabe said he and wife Dana spend much of their time as chauffeurs.
He said the additional courts should allow more teams to practice simultaneously, perhaps eliminating inconvenient early morning or late evening drives to and from the family’s Blair home. He foresees more at-home tournaments, as competitive teams from other states are drawn to Omaha.
“You’re talking about a huge facility,” McCabe said. “That thing is a monster.”
Stakeholders are to gather Wednesday for a groundbreaking ceremony. Steel beams frame the project site. Nearby sports venues include The Mark bowling alley and sand volleyball center and the Elkhorn Training Camp.
Willie Douglas is part owner of both Omaha Sports Academy and The Mark. Pointing to undeveloped land, he anticipates the neighborhood growing as a hub for youth sports .
“That was our vision, to create an area for youth sports — a place for kids to train and compete in a healthy environment,” said Douglas, who also is part owner of Malibu Homes, a homebuilding company based nearby.
Construction of the complex comes as both Omaha Sports Academy and Elite neared the end of leases on their respective facilities. Each was growing and seeking a more permanent home.
Since its start a decade ago, OSA, based at 11726 Stonegate Circle, has multiplied from 13 club basketball teams playing half the year to a year-round program with 60 teams each session. The league, meanwhile, grew from fewer than 200 teams to about 600, Franzese said. OSA also manages the eight-court Iowa West Field House in Council Bluffs.
Since 2000, Elite, located at Genesis Health Club at 1212 N. 102nd St., has grown from seven competitive club teams to 34 teams for girls ages 11 to 18, Carrow said. Elite added a program for girls under age 11, and a beach volleyball program that now has more than 200 players.
Mark Rath, sales director of the visitor’s bureau, also known as Visit Omaha, said he looks forward to the Union Bank & Trust facility opening the door to new regional and national youth sports business.
At the new complex alone, Franzese estimated that a weekend of basketball and volleyball tournament play could pull between 8,000 and 10,000 people through the door. (Admission can run from $5 to $10, Carrow said.)
Increasingly, youth club sports is big business. Take the Asics Presidents’ Day Classic held in February at three local sites: the CenturyLink Center, Elite’s current facility and The Mark. It led to 7,200 hotel room nights for volleyball players’ families and an economic impact of about $7.1 million, said Visit Omaha’s Deborah Ward.
Last year’s Midwest Basketball Showcase for girls and boys at the CenturyLink attracted teams from 10 states and infused about $1.9 million into the community.
The new sports complex should be a boost for the growing number of hotels sprouting in west Omaha, Ward said.
“We’ve got the hotel supply out there,” she said. “It’s nice to have another demand generator — which youth sports definitely is.”