Planning with Purpose

ARTICLE | Aug 26, 2016

Typically, beginning with community requests or the insight of a few key leaders, the early visioning phase for a new sport, special event, or recreation center is an exciting time. Once the idea progresses and community leaders begin to get behind the concept, the process can take on a life of its own.

Defining success and determining the desired outcomes of the facility should be the first step in turning the concept into reality. Defining success formally in a business development planning session is crucial so that all parties understand the objective of the venue. In a private development, this is typically easy to do; however, many public developments need to gain alignment between multiple perspectives, including economic development corporations, local parks and recreation, convention and visitors bureau, core community user groups, and a variety of other constituents.


Upward Star Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina, made the list of Top Facilities of 2016.

Developed to help bring focus to the planning committee, these priorities and outcomes will drive decision making throughout the development cycle. Definitions of success can vary based on whether the project is publically funded or developed with private sector funds. Common objectives include:


  • Quality of life
  • Return on investment
  • Economic development
  • Real estate asset development
  • Community engagement
  • Community impact.


Align Program with Purpose

When all parties are aligned to the priority objectives, plans can then be made: organizational development plans, marketing plans, operating plans, and architectural plans to construct a building and organization that achieves the definition of success.

The common architectural saying “form follows function” applies exceptionally well to sports complexes. The function of these venues should be to fulfill their unique purpose as defined in the business development planning session.

Learning from Others

One of the best examples of purposeful design is the Upward Star Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which was highlighted on the list of Top Facilities of 2016. The Upward Star Center transforms the landscape of youth sports by developing players mentally, athletically, spiritually, and socially. One strategy is to attract the best tournaments, coaches, showcases, players, and teams. Designed with their mission in mind, the unique viewing mezzanine is highlighted by a large, circular room with 360 degree views to all courts. This “wow space” has attracted prominent coaches, well-known ministry leaders, and top tournament/event organizers providing the opportunity for the Upward organization to advance its mission and vision.

ball field

Love Hatbox Sports Complex, Muskogee, Illinois

Another great example of purposeful design is actually a redesign. A visionary mayor, a supportive council, and the city planned to repurpose the existing Hatbox Sports Complex. Transforming it into the Love Hatbox Sports Complex; the group created a sports tourism destination for statewide and regional events. With a nominal investment in just one year, revenue increased by over 500% with 10 times the previous year’s contribution to economic impact. Overall citywide economic spending was up considerably and at least three new hotels are under construction. Those are the results of minimal and aesthetic renovations of an existing asset. The mayor and city council of Muskogee, Oklahoma (population approximately 40,000), have developed a plan to fan the flame of economic growth by expanding the complex with additional entertainment, recreation, and sport initiatives.

Hold Off on the Drawings, Management Is Not in the Room!

When a project is started, the temptation to jump directly into flashy architectural plans can be tough to resist.  Many existing venues are significantly underperforming because they did not and do not understand their mission or definition of success, resulting in an inefficient building physically and an ineffective organization operationally. Every client and every project – from the publically owned “megacility” to the small private rock gym – should begin by defining the purpose, mission, and program elements of the facility. But that’s not all. It is important to also consider the management and organizational structure and to understand things like cash collection, point of sale, office and administrative space needs, and other factors that require experienced sports facilities management.


You may also be interested in