Sports complex foreshadows potential economic impacts of COVID-19

By Brandon Martin

As city and county officials work to amend their budgets in response to concerns regarding the impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the economy, a lot of the projections rely on revenue from local meals and sales taxes, according to Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki.

Often seen as a big contributor to the local economy, race weekend at the Martinsville Speedway has been postponed this year. This could mean fewer or delayed revenues due to tourism in the area.

While the impacts of the race postponement are yet to be seen, the Smith River Sports Complex (SRSC) is already feeling the impact.

Lloyd Barber, executive director of the complex, said that the facility has already had to furlough three of its four employees due to lack of activity.

“The only person still working full-time is the facility manager who has to maintain the fields, landscape, driving range, and the rest of the facility,” she said.

As of April 1, the complex has prohibited use of playground equipment, access gates and public restrooms at the facility.

The complex still remains open in a limited capacity. According to its social media page, the driving range, canoe access and walking trails around the fields, and the Dick & Willie Passage will remain available for guests who are encouraged to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Barber said that changes may have repercussions for the local economy as well, since the complex hosted 691 events in 2019.

According to data released by officials there, out-of-town visitors to the complex last year totaled 33,268. In total, 435 teams travelled a collective 71,875 miles to participate in events at the facility. The average distance driven to SRSC is 165 miles, according to the data.

She said 42 percent of the complex’s revenue comes from scheduled events. An estimated 46 percent of the complex’s funds come from grants, and the remaining 12 percent comes from donations and sponsorships.

The facility “needs the community’s support more than ever,” Barber said, adding that “businesses can be a ‘Business Partner’ for a $500 a year donation.”

She noted that individual donations also are welcome. Individuals may donate through the “Friends of the Complex” heading found on the facility’s webpage at www.smithriversportscomplex.com.

While the complex’s scheduled events have taken a hit, Barber said that local interest in SRSC’s other amenities remains high.

“We have been averaging 125 driving range visitors per week over the last month,” she said. “We have no way of tracking the number of walkers, runners, or bikers, but general observation is that the trails have been very popular especially with the connection of the new section of the Dick & Willie. We do not track the river access either, but I imagine its use will continue to increase as the warmer weather sets in.”

Barber said she is thankful that the facility has remained open, even if it is operating at a limited capacity.

“It is wonderful that we have been able to keep the park open for access to the trails during the social distancing orders so that local residents can get outside and exercise and enjoy the beautiful scenery,” Barber said. “People for the most part have been honoring the call to distance and many are wearing masks as an extra precaution. We were sorry to have to close the fields and the playground for safety reasons, but I think folks understand. It is times like this especially that we realize how lucky and blessed we are to have this place.”

The Smith River Sports Complex is open on a limited basis, but use of some of the facility’s amenities – such as the playground equipment  — is prohibited, and events typically held there are postponed or canceled for the year.

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