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Questions of funding derail sports tourism office proposal

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Franklin won’t spend tax dollars to form a new organization that would attract sporting events to the city because of doubts about how to fund it.

The visitors who come to Franklin for youth sports or arts events spend about $1 million per year on hotels, restaurants and shops. That impact could double or triple if a group worked to attract more events to the city, a study by an Indiana University professor said.

A group that includes city officials, Franklin Community Schools, Franklin College and Johnson Memorial Hospital originally proposed forming a nonprofit sports corporation that would focus on booking new events. A full-time director would organize more tournaments that could be conducted at the high school or college facilities.

The group got a $50,000 grant from the Franklin Development Corp. to pay for feasibility studies and had asked the organization to considering funding operating expenses, such as a salary for a director, wages for event staff and advertising.

Running the organization long term could cost $120,000 per year, and the group couldn’t figure out a way to pay for those expenses, Franklin Superintendent David Clendening said.

“It really came down to revenue and means. None of us felt like at this point in time, as a single entity, we could do it, and we needed some further assistance and revenue,” Clendening said.

Another issue is that the city has fewer than 175 hotels rooms available, which is not enough to host large events.

The city would need significantly more rooms if it wanted to host a 40-team softball tournament, for example.

That’s another reason the Franklin group decided not to spend money on a sports corporation, since the shortage of hotel rooms could severely limit how many new events the city could book, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

Earlier this year, the Johnson County Council discussed adding an innkeeper’s tax, which is charged to overnight visitors at local hotels.

The money raised is used to promote local tourism. The Franklin group was waiting to see if that tax was implemented since it could help fund a sports corporation. When the county council decided not to charge the tax, it deflated the prospect of forming the new nonprofit agency, Clendening said.

The Franklin Development Corp., an organization that was created and funded by the city with tax dollars, paid about $21,500 for two studies.

One reviewed the economic impact of events already taking place, while the second rated local facilities and whether the city could feasibly host large events, including having enough hotel rooms.

Another $28,500 was promised to help launch the new sports corporation if it was formed. The rest of the operating costs could have come from funding from the four groups planning the corporation or from sponsorships and contributions from local businesses.

City officials already have seen what happens if an organization is funded without a plan to be self-sustaining, McGuinness said.

The Franklin Development Corp., which helped fund the studies, previously had a full-time director but no source of income and spent about $600,000 to operate over five years.

The director resigned last year when operating funds were almost gone, and the organization is now run by a volunteer board that still relies on the city to fund operating costs, such as legal fees.

The city council approved giving $50,000 in tax dollars to that organization this year for operating expenses.

McGuinness said he didn’t want a new sports corporation to follow a similar pattern.

The idea of hosting more sporting events is something the group still wants to pursue and could try to form a volunteer board that would promote Franklin, McGuinness said.

If the county eventually approves an innkeeper’s tax, a visitors bureau that would be formed could promote sports events in Franklin and other parts of the county, he said.

The results of the studies did show that Franklin has the opportunity to become a youth sports destination, although more hotel space would be needed, local officials said.

A team from the National Association of Sports Commissions rated facilities such as the fieldhouse at Franklin Community High School among the biggest and best in the nation, according to the report.

The city could host more basketball, volleyball, wrestling or gymnastics competitions if someone was trying to organize those events, the report said.

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