WESTFIELD – Saddled with months of construction delays wrought by a hard winter, it would have been reasonable for the city's $45 million Grand Park sports complex to fall short of its lofty expectations in its first year.
Instead, it's shattering them.
With the park's official grand opening this weekend, more than 340,000 visitors already have flocked to the youth sports complex since its March soft opening, putting the park on pace to eclipse its first-year attendance projections of 500,000 visitors by the end of July.
All that, and construction isn't even complete.
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Boasting 31 multi-use soccer/football fields and 26 baseball/softball diamonds spread across 400 acres, Grand Park will be the largest multi-purpose youth sports complex in the United States when it's finished.
The park's three-day grand opening celebration begins Friday and will feature live music, food, beer, fireworks and, of course, sports. Visitors are welcome to catch a few games of the Hoosier Lacrosse youth tournament while they take in the festivities. But the best way to get a sense of the park's enormity will be atop the 50-foot Ferris wheel set up in the main parking area, Lot C.
It's that grand size coupled with the park's early success that finds Westfield, an Indianapolis suburb of 30,000 residents to the north — poised not only to become an emerging player in Central Indiana, but a destination city for an $8.7 billion sporting events industry nationwide.
"This is — if you will — groundbreaking, given the size of it and the number of fields that it has," said Tim Monger, president and CEO of the Hamilton County Economic Development Corporation. "This facility certainly puts Central Indiana and Westfield on the map when it comes to traveling teams."
Case in point — at a 92-team soccer tournament this month, 91 teams were from out of state, according to park officials. And a baseball tournament earlier this year brought in 312 teams and more than 50 college scouts from around the country.
Even 10 years ago, a youth sports facility of this size would never have gotten off the drawing board. William Knox, director of the Hamilton County Sports Authority, said that's because traditionally it has been only the premier athletes who traveled to out-of-town events, so few cities were treating it as a tourism opportunity.
"Fifteen years ago, who in the world would've said that's a good idea to build this big sports complex?" Knox said. "Traditionally (sports tournaments) were all with existing facilities. Now communities are starting to identify that this activity means big business to our community, so they're investing in infrastructure."
The private sector is taking note. Park developer Steve Henke said the nearby intersection of 191st Street and U.S. 31 has a major retail center ready for development once the state completes work on a new highway interchange at that spot. And south of the park, development already is underway at the corner of U.S. 31 and Ind. 32. There are buildings under construction at three of the four corners of the intersection.
"This does not make money for the city — but its presence does," said Westfield Mayor Andy Cook, a longtime champion of the project, which has taken 2 1/2 years to build and another two years to plan.
Cook points to Wellbrooke of Westfield, a recently opened assisted living center across the street from the park, as evidence that the city's property tax rolls are seeing dividends.
"The only reason that building is here — that $20 million private development — is because of this park," he said.
And more development is sure to follow. Taco Bell is the only restaurant near the park, and the Rodeway Inn & Suites is the only hotel in the city. Cook doesn't expect either to stay lonely for long; he anticipates as many as two hotels to be announced by the end of this summer.
As for restaurants, Henke said there already have been bites. His company, Henke Development, is preparing to dig a 15-acre lake south of the park, which would anchor Village Center — a boardwalk-style retail center with restaurants, a hotel and indoor entertainment centers, such as bowling, mini-golf or gymnastics to complement the park and accommodate visiting families between tournament games.
The city hired his company to do the site work, but private developers will be putting in the buildings themselves, he said. Construction on the first businesses could start as soon as fall.
As for Grand Park — still littered with portable toilets and mounds of mud and dirt, it hasn't yet lived up to the developer's goal of creating a "park atmosphere." But it's getting there.
The leftover work for phase one is primarily aesthetic improvements, such as landscaping, which Henke says should be finished in this fall. In the future, the city plans to make continuous upgrades, such as building stadium facilities for the two main fields and adding pavilions and playgrounds around the park.
"We'll probably never be completely built out," Henke said.
So far, the park's 340,000 visitors haven't seemed to mind.
Call Star reporter Brian Eason at (317) 444-6129. Follow him on Twitter: @brianeason.
Spanning 400 acres, the $45 million Grand Park in Westfield is the largest of its kind in the country. Here's an overview of its facilities:
• 31 multi-purpose fields
• 26 outdoor diamonds
• An indoor soccer facility with three fields
• An indoor diamond sports facility with concessions
• More than 10 miles of multi-use paths, which will eventually connect to the Monon Trail
A 'Grand' opening
The Grand Park in Westfield will have its grand opening celebration Friday through Sunday. It will feature live music, food, a beer garden and a 50-foot Ferris wheel. Park officials recommend bringing your own chairs.
Here's a schedule of events:
Friday: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. — Kick-off concert by Dave and Rae
Saturday: All day — sporting events (Hoosier Lacrosse Tournament, Perfect Game Super 25 Baseball Tournament and American Softball Association State Championships)
2 p.m. — Grand Ribbon cutting
3:30 p.m. — Circle City Royals concert
7 p.m. — Wright Brothers Band concert
10 p.m. — Fireworks show
Sunday: All day — sporting events (same as above)
8 a.m. — A Grand Run 5K and Family Fun Run/Walk