Increase in jobs, sports tourism drive Obetz park expansions

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By Ris Twigg
Staff Writer

Sports tourism and job growth drive the village of Obetz’s revenue streams, according to village officials. They’re also two big reasons why the town of just over 5,000 residents is aggressively growing its park system.

As the rate of employment goes up, so do the number of people who spend time in Obetz — and those people have told village officials they want things to do while they’re in town, said Rod Davisson, economic development director of Obetz.

“It’s a really young town with mostly families and young kids,” Davisson said. “The millennials are much more interested in recreation and walkability and those kind of things.”

Families aren’t the only ones on the receiving end of Obetz’s increase in parks.
Obetz’s sports facilities get about 500,000 visitors annually for a variety of common sports and “alternative” events, such as World Dog Frisbee championships, band competitions and the village’s annual ZucchiniFest.

Officials expect that number to eclipse one million in the next few years, and Davisson said it’s already getting harder to make sure they host the “eclectic” events that they want.

Obetz has 13 public parks with a mix of disc golf, sports complexes, playing fields, an ice rink and trails totaling more than 400 acres. One of its most popular event venues is Fortress Obetz, a 63-acre multi-purpose sports complex which holds upwards of 6,500 people.
As Obetz has grown, more and more organizations want to rent out the space

due to its affordability and location. But demand for the space is beginning to outpace itself.

“The challenge we’re getting into now is we don’t have time. We only have one to two weekends available at Fortress Obetz for the whole year,” Davisson said.

In an effort to increase capacity for hosting events, more park land will be annexed into the town this spring, alongside additional land slated for retail development, Obetz Village Council announced during a November meeting.

“Four hundred-fifteen acres is pretty aggressive for a town of this size. We move at a speed the other folks can’t keep up with,” Davisson said. “That requires you to cut out some of the stupidity of government. Doesn’t make us loose, or the subject of corruption. Our audits are perfect.”

To determine and prioritize what projects to implement in its continuous 5-year plan, council holds a public meeting in the first two months of the year where residents can provide their input on what improvements they wish to see in Obetz.

“Everything here is pretty low key. We’ll just whip out a whiteboard (during the council meeting) and ask, ‘What do you want?’” Davisson said. “It’s really a brainstorming session for the whole community.”

Davisson hopes to send out a survey on social media for residents who are unable to make it to the meeting this year, something that hasn’t been done in the past.

The current list of park-related priorities — mostly consisting of items from 2017 — racks up a bill totaling more than $21 million and includes everything from street paving and beautification projects to remodeling existing community spaces as well as building new ones.

Some wish list items from residents include places to swim, weight rooms, party venues and updated playground equipment. The village hopes to soon replace some of its current playgrounds with blends of newer, more naturally-landscaped and traditional equipment and has already added weight rooms and party venues to accommodate increased demand for those amenities.

One new park will have testing equipment for track-and-field sports, such as sprinting and high jump, where runners can test how fast they can run or how high they can jump. Another park will consist entirely of swing sets.

In the two years since the community’s “wish list” was formalized, about $6.2 million in beautification, facility upgrades and land acquisitions have already taken place, according to Davisson.

“Sometimes we have to say, ‘Be patient, we’ll get there,’” he said, referring to the approximately $15 million in annual revenue generated from the town’s income taxes. “You can’t spend $20 million on cool stuff if you don’t pay attention to how many companies are here.”

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