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Sports park hits home run

Mail Tribune/file photo North Medford senior Rylan Austin started in the circle against Sheldon, for a game that began at North Medford High then was relocated to U.S. Cellular Community Park due to wet grounds.

Propelled by increased demand for adult softball, the ballfields formerly known as U.S. Cellular Community Park pumped an estimated $13 million into the Medford economy last year, which surpassed the previous record of $12.2 million in 2019 and stormed past the C0VID-19-related issues of 2020.

“The purpose of quantifying the economic impact helps justify the investment in local parks facilities,” said Rich Rosenthal, Medford Parks director.

Adult slow-pitch softball attracted 12 tournaments and 360 teams, the most ever.

“It was a huge year,” Rosenthal said.

Youth baseball teams also had a record year, with 360 teams in 12 tournaments.

The sports park, now known as Lithia & Driveway Fields Park, has amassed an estimated economic impact of $134 million since it opened in 2008, according to the economic analysis released by Medford Parks this week.

Pandemic-related issues resulted in a slowdown at the park in 2020, when it generated an estimated $7.1 million in local economic activity.

Rosenthal said the same methodology for calculating the economic impact has been used since the park opened in 2008. The amount of money is based on a survey of the spending of the teams and visitors to the park and is multiplied by 1.85 to estimate the ripple effect on the local economy. This methodology is based on Texas A&M researcher John L. Cromptom’s 1999 book “Measuring the Economic Impact.”

The totals do not reflect Harry & David Field, which is managed and maintained by the Medford Rogues baseball club.

The park hosted 45 tournaments or events and attracted 1,645 teams that spent an estimated $7,046,380, which is then multiplied by 1.85 to estimate the ripple effect on the local economy.

Visiting teams spent $5.4 million on hotels, restaurants and other local activities.

Rosenthal said the sports park had more tournaments because many other sports parks in the region limited activity because of the pandemic.

All activities at the sports park were held in conformance with Oregon Health Authority guidelines, Rosenthal said.

“Fortunately, in 2021, the guidelines for outdoor activities lessened,” he said. “By the time we reached the peak season, the mask guidelines had been eased.”

The sports park, located at 300 Lowry Lane, is 132 acres and construction cost $32.5 million for the 15 fields covered in synthetic grass.

U.S. Cellular paid $650,000 for park naming rights in 2005, the largest agreement for a municipal park in Oregon at that time.

Lithia paid $725,000 for naming rights over the next five-year period.

The park has three full-sized baseball fields, seven softball and baseball fields, and five soccer and football fields.

Total park attendance in 2021 was 211,537, the third-highest year. In 2018, attendance hit 228,556, and in 2019, it reached 226,728.

In 2021, 5,000 games were played at the park, double the 2,500 in 2008.

While spring to late summer are the peak seasons for the park, events are held every month of the year.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.