Home run: National recognition accentuates success of Peoria athletic complex
Peoria can officially claim it has one of the top athletic facilities in the country, one that's helping other local businesses reap economic benefits.
The Louisville Slugger Sports Complex on Orange Prairie Road has been honored by the U.S. Sports Specialty Association as the National Complex of the Year for 2022.
“It means a great deal,” said owner Mark Petersen. “To get that award is very prestigious, and it just shows you what they think about us and what our peers think about us. It’s definitely a pride factor that Peoria can really hit home about, because it’s not just us saying we have got a good complex. It’s somebody that knows sports complexes throughout the country.”
Featuring 12 synthetic turf ball diamonds, a 1,300-seat stadium, and a 125,000-square-foot dome, the Louisville Slugger complex hosts sports tournaments almost year-round. Petersen said the venue hosts events during 50 of the 52 weeks each year and annually attracts between 500,000 and 600,000 guests.
“When they’re here, of course they’re not just at our complex,” he said. “They’re staying in ... the area hotels. They’re utilizing the area restaurants. They’re going down to the Peoria Chiefs games, going to the Peoria (Riverfront) Museum, filling in their cars with gas, shopping and The Shoppes at Grand Prairie.
"So the economic impact that those half a million people bring each year to the Peoria area is really important.”
JD Dalfonso, president of Discover Peoria (the region’s convention and visitors’ bureau) agreed being home to a nationally recognized athletic venue provides an economic boon for the region.
“I believe an award like that is simply stating something we already know, and everybody else gets to know it as well: that we have the premier facility right here in our backyard in Greater Peoria,” said Dalfonso.
“I try and break it down for people to understand where the local support comes from visitors coming into Peoria for these tournaments: You have one team paying a hotel room rate of $129 — just throwing that (figure) out there; it could be way more than that. You have 15 members on those teams, 15 families, and you have 225 teams coming throughout the week. There alone in one week, this complex is contributing tens of thousands of dollars back to the community from people coming from outside, from over 80 miles to visit and enjoy our amenities.”
Petersen said brand recognition has played a big part in developing a strong reputation for the sports complex.
“When we opened this, we didn’t want to just be the ‘Peoria Sports Complex.’ We wanted people to recognize the international name brand and get excited about coming to Peoria. So, I think that was step one, was getting those naming rights,” said Petersen.
“Step two was building a first-class complex, which we’ve done and we continue to put money back into it each year, making it bright and fresh and clean and just real eye appealing. New services every year, different food and beverage items every year, and we just continue to improve the facilities for all sorts of different sports besides just baseball and softball.”
Petersen also credits a dedicated staff led by vice president of operations Rick Gaa and general manager Joe Bolen for working to maintain a high level of quality that is appreciated by the numerous athletes and families who visit.
Dalfonso said the Louisville Slugger complex meets a vital need for the region.
“The way bat-and-ball and sports tourism has grown, particularly over the last decade, having not just a facility like this, but a premier facility with Louisville Slugger name — it’s hard to imagine where we’d be without it right now, and I really don’t want to think about it,” he said.
“As I see other destinations growing their bat-and-ball and sports tourism venues, it’s a huge challenge just to get it off the ground and then operate it to the level in which it needs to be successful. We’ve been able to see that done here to a tee.”
Petersen noted having a dome as part of the complex has been a major key to its success, giving it the ability to host more than just baseball and softball. He said they’ve also held events for volleyball, flag football, soccer and lacrosse, as well as some business functions and even a major music festival.
“We had the Tailgate ‘N Tallboys concert a couple summers ago. We were the first concert coming out of COVID anywhere in the Midwest, so that was exciting,” he said. “We had 30,000 people here for that event, which again was great for the Peoria tourism industry.
“The flexibility that we have with our turf fields and with the dome, again, we can do so many different kinds of special events, corporate events, and all sorts of different sports. If you have a sport, you can play it here.”