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Franklin considers forming sports corporation

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A partnership among local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations is being looked at as a way to promote the city of Franklin as a destination for sporting events.

Franklin Community School Corp., Franklin College, Franklin city government and Johnson Memorial Hospital teamed up and sought the help of a city-funded organization to look into creating a sports corporation. The organization would market the city and its facilities to host youth sports events, such as basketball tournaments or regional swimming meets.

The goal would be to bring more people — and their money — into Franklin.

Before the Franklin Sports Corp. would be created, a study will be done to identify what kind of sporting events might be best suited for Franklin and how much money those events could bring into the community. If the study shows a sports corporation could bring more events and money into the city, the group could be formed and a director hired as soon as this year. But questions about how the corporation would be funded have yet to be answered.

The Franklin Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that was created and funded by the city, has approved spending $24,000 to study the idea. The study will determine the economic impact a sports corporation might have on Franklin. The city, school district, college and hospital will review the report and decide if the benefits of the new organization outweigh the startup and operating costs.

If officials decide to form the organization, the development agency has promised another $26,000 for startup and operating costs, with the city, school district, college and hospital splitting the rest of the cost.

The original request called for the agency to spend $280,850 to fund the feasibility study and the first two years of operating costs, including about $60,000 per year in salary and benefits for a director, $55,000 to pay for event staff and equipment and advertising, and another $10,000 for mileage, travel and other expenses.

The goal would be for the sports corporation to be able to pay its own expenses by the fifth year, according to Franklin Community Schools executive director of finance Jeff Mercer.

But it’s not yet clear who would pay the bills until that point and whether the money would come from the Franklin Development Corp., from contributions from the city, school district, college and hospital, or some combination.

“It may be that they come back to us and say, ‘We appreciate the challenge money. We’d like to see if you guys would consider a little greater gift.’ We may not require that everybody puts in the money to get it, but that’s the goal, to make sure the other community partners are contributing as well,” said Franklin Development Corp. president and chief executive officer Craig Wells.

“If it does have the potential to be self-sustaining and get off the ground, we want to give it a good start.”

The idea for a sports corporation started at Franklin Community High School, where events in the performing arts center and new athletic facilities draw in thousands of people each year, Mercer said.

Facilities and support

The school district hired a coordinator to help promote the arts center for outside events and saw about 27,000 visitors in 2012 as a result. Before that, the center was used only for school events. The spike in use and interest in school facilities led to talks about whether marketing could help draw more people to the school district’s athletic facilities, including the swimming pools, gym and outdoor fields, Mercer said.

“We hadn’t really done anything on the other end of the building, the athletic end. We were really beginning to draw a lot of attendance to that end of the building,” he said.

Mercer contacted Franklin College, which also has facilities that could host events, and the city and hospital, which both could provide additional promotional and financial support. The groups agreed that attracting more sports events could boost the local economy.

“I hope it brings a lot of people to Franklin who see what we have as a city and community and want to spend time and money here and maybe some other people then who want to develop businesses. It’s purely economic development. I think that’s the whole purpose. I don’t think it’s to say we’ve had another basketball tournament,” Franklin College President James “Jay” Moseley said.

City government would help promote events and welcome people to Franklin as well as provide a few park facilities and staff members to help run events, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

“Are we missing out on some things? If we are, what can we do to compensate to attract more traffic to Franklin if we can host some of these sporting events,” he said.

Franklin Community Schools and Franklin College would provide facilities, while Johnson Memorial Hospital and the city government would play a support role.

The hospital has tried to target community betterment programs like Franklin READS and Healthy Franklin and viewed the sports corporation as another way to showcase and improve the city. Any new sports events also could provide opportunities to promote the hospital’s sports medicine department and could provide athletic trainers, hospital chief executive officer Larry Heydon said.

“We wanted to participate in that because we want long term for the community to be a better place, for the businesses to grow and make Johnson County a more attractive place,” Heydon said.

Chicken and egg

The decision to form the sports corporation will hinge on the findings in the feasibility report by Bruce Jaffe of Indiana University. Jaffe has conducted about 20 economic impact studies for various groups and said the main focus is finding out who attends events and where they spend their money.

“One key element is who’s there, who is coming to those events and where do they live? If they’re all Johnson County people, that’s quite a different story than if they’re coming from out of state. Of those people who are coming outside of the Franklin area, how much are they spending,” Jaffe said.

For example, an Indianapolis Colts football game at Lucas Oil Stadium brings thousands of people into the city, but many of the people drive in for the game, eat and drink at the stadium and then drive home after the game, providing a small economic impact per person to the surrounding area, Jaffe said. But an event like the Indiana Black Expo had a larger impact since almost all of the people attending were staying multiple days in hotels, visiting local restaurants and spending money throughout the city.

Jaffe will conduct surveys and visit sports facilities in Franklin during the next three months to develop the report by July. He will survey people to try to find out how much they spend when attending sporting events and how they spend it.

He already believes a lack of hotel space in Franklin could be one factor working against attracting sporting events.

Limited hotel space could be a problem, but the sports corporation is one way the city could possibly get hotel developers interested in Franklin, Mercer said. The sports corporation would have to consistently book events in order to drive development of hotels or any other business.

“It’s really kind of the chicken and the egg, and you’ve got to have one before you have the other. But devoid of tangible events that would consistently draw people here, we’re not an attractive location for them,” Mercer said.

Football, basketball and baseball events would be among the main focuses of the sports corporation, but there may be more opportunities for other sporting events, such as swimming, wrestling and competitive cheerleading, officials said.

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