AP NEWS

Arena football team highlights need for greater use of park

February 23, 2019

The addition of arena football will bring some new life to Ford Park, even if minor league teams have a mixed record in Southeast Texas. Some have folded quickly, others have lasted a while. But so far, none has developed the fan base and revenues needed for long-term stability. Perhaps the Texas Bighorns will break through, and we wish them success.

But this news highlights a larger need for Ford Park, and the Jefferson County taxpayers who own it, willingly or not. The park has seen more use recently, but it still requires an annual subsidy of around $2 million. The goal must be to get revenues closer to that figure. Commissioners have delegated that task to Spectra, the management company that runs the park and tries to book events.

The 12 baseball and softball fields bring in the biggest number of visitors through tournaments and regular use, and their success is impressive. But most of the money spent by the tournament visitors on gasoline, hotels and meals goes to businesses outside of Ford Park. Make no mistake about it — that revenue is a real boost for Jefferson County taxpayers. But it provides at best an indirect counterweight to the annual subsidies.

The arena, where the Bighorns will play, presents a special challenge. It’s a first-rate facility, but it sits empty most of the year outside of a few monster truck rallies or children’s events. Yet those activities tend to bring in more money because of the sheer size of the building. Any chance to maximize that potential must be a priority.

The South Texas State Fair will be coming soon to the midway, and it clearly brings in tens of thousands of customers and much greater revenues. But it’s a two-week event, and the midway (like the arena) doesn’t see much action the rest of the year.

This pattern seems to be the underlying problem with Ford Park. It’s great for some events, but they come about infrequently. Yet every week of the year the infrastructure at Ford Park must be maintained and serviced.

The answer is a familiar, but difficult one: more events, more concerts, more attractions that compel you and your neighbor to come out and be entertained or informed. It’s not easy, and there are limits to what the regional market will support, especially with us being so close to Houston.

Ford Park will probably never make money directly for the county. But any glance at Ford Park’s schedule leaves taxpayers with the distinct impression that it could and should have more things going on.

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