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Golden Eagle Regional Park proving quite the asset for Sparks
by Dan Eckles
Jun 09, 2013 | 2658 views | 0 0 comments | 51 51 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Golden Eagle Regional Park in north Sparks was opened in 2008. It's since grown into one of the top youth and adult softball tournament venues in the nation.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Golden Eagle Regional Park in north Sparks was opened in 2008. It's since grown into one of the top youth and adult softball tournament venues in the nation.
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When Golden Eagle Regional Park opened in the late spring of 2008, City of Sparks officials believed they had a gem of a venue on their hands. They just didn't know how valuable it would turn out to be.

Five years and countless events later, they know now.

"I get requests every week about hosting additional tournaments or adding dates to squeeze in more," said Tony Pehle, the recreation coordinator for the Sparks Parks and Rec. department. "We knew it would be huge. We just didn't know it would be this big."

'GERP' as it's affectionately known in the Truckee Meadows, boasted the largest installation of artificial turf when it opened and is still believed to have that distinction. The park, which offers four Little League baseball fields, two larger Babe Ruth sized baseball fields, six adult softball fields and three multi-purpose or 'flat' fields has had an event booked every weekend since Feb. 9. That will remain the case through Nov. 23.

Pehle said that usage demand has become the norm.

"We knew it was going to be a great facility," he said. "We knew we'd get a lot of tournaments coming to town. We didn't know it would get to the point it is, being booked for 10 months out of the year. We get people calling from all over the country wanting to put on a tournament there. We work closely with the RSCVA to bring in bigger, better events."

Rental fees for the park can range from $30 for a soccer team using one field for an hour or two to larger events using all the fields for multiple days, bringing a rental price tag of $3,000-$5,000. Since the park is managed by the city, Pehle's goal is not to turn huge profits on events, but more so to bring in money to the community.

The veteran city employee stressed rental fees largely just cover costs, the two biggest expenses being staff and maintenance. That policy seems to be paying off.

"I did a study of 2012 for our Parks and Rec. Commission," Pehle said. "GERP generated upwards of $19 million in economic impact to the community. That takes into account money spent on lodging, entertainment, food, gas, gambling. It covers everything people would spend money on in the community.

"Only a little bit of our fees are actually profit. We are more concerned for the overall community than turning a profit for our budget. We may only make a few hundred bucks off a tournament, but the community could make hundreds of thousands. We know the value of GERP to the entire region."

GERP's number of fields and aesthetic beauty are what make it a popular venue for some of the top adult and youth baseball/softball tournaments in the country. Triple Crown Sports organizes a few of those top-flight events and the company has made a commitment to bring events to northern Nevada largely because of GERP.

"It's got a lot of turf for one location," said Roland Rivera, event developer and special projects coordinator for Triple Crown. "It's a great design. It's unique. Teams really enjoy it, but in this case there were just so many great factors to the area that made it attractive. With GERP and the Reno-Sparks area, it's a great combination. You want families traveling to your events to have other things to do."

Triple Crown signed a five-year contract to host events at GERP. It even spent $65,000 on new portable fencing for use during its events, which it gave back to the city for further use.

Bret Pagni is the President of the Muckdogs Baseball Club, based in Sparks. His club's teams travel throughout northern California and beyond. With GERP, they also get to stay local and play in a few tournaments close to home.

"Golden Eagle is comparable to the top parks in California if not better," Pagni said. "It's creating a lot of buzz in California for teams to come up here. It generates some money for the city. Tony Pehle does a great job for the city and the park, and not just with softball, but baseball too."

Golden Eagle isn't just a jewel of a park for Sparks. FieldTurf, the company which installed the artificial surface, in the past has brought clients to the Rail City to show off its product and used GERP as a selling tool.

"The fact that FieldTurf was installed is a reason GERP is as popular as it is," Darren Gill, Marketing Director for FieldTurf, said. "If the city had gone with grass or another turf, it might not have been as successful. The combination has paid off for both parties. It's definitely a model others are looking up to. We're proud of the product and hopefully Sparks is happy with it, too."

Out of towners aren't the only ones who get to enjoy GERP. Teams from Sparks Centennial and Sparks National Little Leagues, Sparks Babe Ruth, Sparks AYSO, Sparks Pop Warner, Sierra Youth Football League, Great Basin Youth Soccer League and Northern Nevada youth soccer all utilize the various fields.

Mark King is the President of the Sparks Youth Sports Foundation, the group that prioritizes field use for all city parks. He's been with the organization for 14 years and been its president since 2003. He's seen youth sports thrive in the community, but he freely admits local youths are blessed to have a park like GERP.

"We have so much more capabilities with Golden Eagle," he said. "It has lights on every field so you can extend play in the evenings. We don't have turf issues and all the maintenance issues that come with grass."

While FieldTurf allows for year round use and does not require a water bill, it does have a shelf life. However, Pehle said the city will not be caught off guard when it comes time to replace turf, nor will it be using sub-standard quality fields because it cannot afford to repair or replace worn turf.

"The city has in place a capital improvement fund. We have planned for field replacement," he said. "Plus, all of our adult softball leagues have been assessed a facility development fee that goes toward new projects at the complex.

"FieldTurf is proud of the product. They have already replaced some infields. So that gives us additional length and we can replace in staggered stages, adding to the shelf life."

GERP sits on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Paperwork has been turned in, asking the BLM to turn that land over to the city, but it is a lengthy process and may take years to complete. Pehle said there is more usable land adjacent to the park, roughly 10 to 15 percent of the total parcel, and he added the city would like to add a few more multi-use fields and more parking when funding allows.

Golden Eagle was built with monies in hand so the city isn't paying off any loans on the massive park. Pehle said that's a huge luxury, to not have to worry about a debt burden.

So is the park paying for itself?

"We didn't have to borrow money for it. The majority of funding came from the sale of Don Mello Park and the remainder was from facility development fees," Pehle said. "We've got a contract with the restaurant grill that pays us money. It may take 20 years to pay off $28 million (the park's original price tag), but we're providing for 5,000 youth and 500 adult softball teams and also bringing in the $19 million in economic impact. I think it does pay for itself."

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