Gurnee eyes major youth sports complex south of Great America as next big tourist attraction

The first step toward the potential development of a multimillion-dollar indoor-outdoor regional youth sports complex, with surrounding commercial uses, in Gurnee will be considered by the Village Board next month.

Mayor Krysti Kovarik said this week she will ask the board to approve the hiring of a national consulting firm, Sports Facilities Advisory, to complete a feasibility study, and financial and marketing forecast, for the proposal.

The roughly $48,000 study would likely be completed in four to six months, according to Village Administrator Patrick Muetz. The property proposed for the project is a 35-acre, triangular parcel bordered by Washington Street, Milwaukee Avenue and the Tri-State Tollway in western Gurnee, across Washington Street from Great America.

“If we like what they tell us, then we move forward to the next phase — financing,” Kovarik said, adding that she did not anticipate any tax impact on residents due to the project. “If it’s a great idea, people will invest in it.”

There has not yet been an estimated price range or time frame for development of the complex, but Kovarik said it would be a multimillion-dollar endeavor.

Kovarik said that the village needs to continue moving forward to stay “fresh” as a tourist destination spot, as opposed to resting on the laurels of existing major village attractions such as Great America, Gurnee Mills and Great Wolf Lodge.

She added that the goal is to see Gurnee remain as Lake County’s top municipal tourist destination, as well as one of the state’s highest tourist draws. To do that requires “bold” thinking, she said.

“We have to keep Gurnee fresh. We have to keep people coming to the village,” the mayor said.

Muetz said the proposed facility would be geared toward traveling youth leagues in a variety of indoor and outdoor sports, with a number of sports fields developed outside, and basketball courts and other indoor-sports facilities built inside.

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He added that the proposal includes no plans for a stadium, and will primarily be youth-oriented, although Kovarik said she would like to see a semi-pro sports team in the village someday.

Muetz said the facility could complement existing attractions such as Great America and Gurnee Mills, adding that travel-sport families often are looking for activities after and between games, and that the mall and amusement park would be close by.

While a sports complex would be the anchor of the development, Muetz said it could also include surrounding restaurants, hotels and shops.

Kovarik said she hopes the project would be developed with a “downtown” type of feel, including boutique shops and restaurants, because she frequently is asked by residents why the village has no traditional downtown.

Muetz said the development could not support a “main street” style of downtown, such as those in Libertyville and Grayslake, but it could serve as a new “gathering place” for village residents.

The parcel currently consists primarily of undeveloped fields, but some existing businesses and residences along its perimeter would not be threatened by the development, officials said.

According to Muetz and Kovarik, Sports Facilities Advisory was selected by the village due to its nationwide work on similar projects, including Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg, Tenn., which bills itself as “a state-of-the-art, indoor and outdoor sports campus.”

The consulting firm was also a player in the development of the Upward Star Center sports complex in Spartanburg, S.C., and the Myrtle Beach Sports Center, a 100,000 square-foot indoor sports facility in South Carolina.

Kavorik said the Village Board will consider hiring the consulting firm at its Aug. 6 meeting.

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