In early March, high school basketball players from all over West Virginia will travel to Charleston to compete in the annual state basketball championships.

Hotels will be booked. Restaurants will be packed. The Town Center mall will see a much needed uptick in traffic, and locally-owned small businesses will benefit from more shoppers and spending.

It’s not surprising that the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that the four-day boys tournament generates an impressive $13 million impact to the local economy. The success of the state basketball tournament is exactly what the Kanawha County Commission wants to achieve, albeit with more frequency, with the Shawnee Park Youth Sports Complex.

Travel sports, or “sports tourism,” is an $8 billion a year industry, and Kanawha County is ideally situated to enter this market. We are located within a one-day drive of two-thirds of the population of the United States, and are less than four hours from major population centers in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Once open in July 2018, the Shawnee Youth Sports Complex will offer unparalleled facilities — making it an attractive tournament destination for travel clubs from our surrounding states.

The Shawnee Youth Sports Complex will be one of the largest combination artificial turf and natural grass facilities in the eastern United States. The complex will feature six collegiate sized turf soccer and lacrosse fields, four collegiate size turf baseball/softball fields, and several additional grass practice field that can be separately lined and used for a variety of sports.

In fact, tournaments are already being scheduled. The Commission, with help from the CVB, has submitted bids to host tournaments of various sizes, including: the U.S. Regional President’s Cup (2019), estimated economic impact of $3.0 million; the U.S. National President’s Cup (2020), estimated economic impact of $2.0 million; and the larger U.S. Soccer Region 1 tournament (2019 and 2020), with an estimated economic impact of $32 million.

We feel confident in our chances to land one or more of these tournaments and many others. In total, the Shawnee Park Youth Sports Complex intends to host 12 to 15 tournaments each year for soccer, football, baseball, softball, and lacrosse teams.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait on the first tournament to realize the economic benefit from the Shawnee Youth Sports Complex. Construction is underway, with a $10.2 million bid awarded to a local, qualified contractor who employs local, West Virginia workers.

Once the earthwork is complete, local labor will assist with the installation of the artificial turf (the completed facility will feature FieldTurf’s premier product, Revolution 360, considered by many to be the best playing surface available).

And in a precursor of things to come, the City of Dunbar has already heard from a national hotel chain that is interested in locating near Shawnee Park.

There are, of course, those who feel the Kanawha County Commission made a rash decision by eliminating the golf course. But in fact, the development of a sports complex at Shawnee Park has been years in the making. A 2007 report, completed by Marshall University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, found that hosting just two travel tournaments a year at Shawnee would generate $5.5 million to the local economy.

Likewise, a recent analysis by national consulting firm concluded that the Shawnee Youth Sports Complex will be self-sustaining — generating sufficient income from tournament fees, rentals and concessions to cover its annual operating costs.

And while studies and financial reports are helpful and illustrative of the facility’s future success, one only needs to take a stroll through the Town Center during the upcoming high school basketball championship weekend to know that sports tourism is a proven economic driver.