How artificial grass generated millions for O’Fallon and boosted the local economy

From New Year’s Day to July 16, the money spent by people coming to O’Fallon for sports tournaments doubled from last year, $4.5 million in six months compared to $2.3 million in 2022.

The installation of all-weather turf fields has boosted the financial gain, Parks Director Andrew Dallner said, because it decreases rainouts and gives teams incentive to schedule events there.

Teams that come to the Family Sports Park for sports tournaments continue to have a positive impact on O’Fallon’s economy, and the good weather this spring cooperated as well, thus avoiding cancellations.

“The word is getting out,” Dallner said. “We’re having more participation. For instance, for people in Indiana and Kentucky, and those surrounding areas, it’s a good four-hour trip.”

The city’s economic impact study, which Dallner shared recently with the council’s parks and environment committee, determined that people who stay overnight for tournaments and eat at local restaurants typically spend about $60 per day compared to only $10 per day if they visit O’Fallon just for the day.

“For example, if you are a local baseball team and travel into town we take the number of players, plus coaches, plus parents and multiply them all by $10 per person per day,” Dallner said.

“This spending drives the local economy and generates income for the city. It is the total economic impact on the O’Fallon economy and not direct revenue to the city.”

Besides soccer, softball, and baseball tournaments, contributing to the $4.5 million total was a new summer invitational youth lacrosse tournament, Project Midwest Lacrosse, that brought in $487,800 during June 18-19.

Soccer tournament results during that six-month period included St Louis Scott Gallagher, $591,560; Metro Alliance, $157,320; and Gateway Rush, $136,160.

Dallner said the economic impact will continue to grow because the Family Sports Park was created as a regional site for tournaments that would attract players from other states as well as nearby metro-east and St. Louis teams.

The Family Sports Park at 301 Obernuefemann Road is a 200-acres sports and recreation complex that features eight lighted all-weather synthetic turf soccer fields — one a championship soccer arena — and three premium grass soccer fields, two all-turf baseball/softball fields, and eight turf infield/grass outfield baseball/softball fields. It has a Splash Pad, pavilions, concessions and a 2.1-mile walking trail. A playground was added in 2022.

It’s early development was not without controversy. A hike to the city’s hotel-motel tax — earmarked by state law to be used to promote tourism — and an increased tax on local cell phone usage was not universally welcomed.

But revenue has paid off, said Dallner, as predicted by the administration of then-mayor Gary Graham.

“The Family Sports Park not only attracts hundreds of thousands of people to O’Fallon each year, but it also helps fill O’Fallon’s hotels, restaurants, shops, and many other businesses,” said Grant Litteken, assistant city administrator.

A map of the O’Fallon Family Sports Park.
A map of the O’Fallon Family Sports Park.

The park started taking shape in 2007 but because of Destination O’Fallon’s tax revenue, the city added soccer and ball fields, including the two all-weather synthetic turf fields for soccer and baseball in 2018. The state-of-the-art soccer complex cost $4.58 million.

The economic development incentive in 2016 called Destination O’Fallon resulted in the city raising its hotel/motel tax from 5 to 9%, which is paid only by those who book lodging.

During the past seven years, hotel room usage and revenue has tripled – from $800,000 in hotel tax revenue that year to an estimated $2.85 million in hotel tax revenue projected in this current fiscal year, Litteken said.

That, in turn, has led to more people eating in local restaurants and shopping in area stores.

“We created the Destination O’Fallon program to grow O’Fallon’s economy and it has been very successful. Revenue from food and beverage in O’Fallon has grown 49% since 2016, and sales tax has increased 26% in that same timeframe,” Litteken said.

“Data shows if someone stays overnight in O’Fallon, they are likely to spend over three times as much, including the hotel stay, multiple meals, and shopping trips,” he said.

In recent years, the park’s development and improvements have attracted more sports tourism users, especially now that competitions have returned post-public health emergency pandemic. In 2022, the economic impact was listed as $2,279,020.

“We are scheduling more since the pandemic,” Dallner said. “It’s great for the community. We have a new lacrosse tournament in November and new soccer tournaments this fall.”The Carshield Adam Ragsdale Memorial Soccer Tournament is what’s referred to as “stay and play” and is set for Sept. 29-Oct. 1, with teams guaranteed three games. It is a GotSport ranked event for both boys’ and girls’ teams.

Soccer tournaments typically take place in September, October, November, February, March, and April, with baseball and softball tournaments May-August.

Youth and adult leagues use the park for regular season play, too, but this report concentrates on the tournaments.

The O’Fallon Parks and Recreation Department has a playground near the soccer fields at the Family Sports Park.
The O’Fallon Parks and Recreation Department has a playground near the soccer fields at the Family Sports Park.