Nearly two decades after its inception, Kidsports Complex is taking its next evolutionary step as a growing regional youth athletic facility and destination.
Crews with LHC, Inc., a Kalispell-based contractor, are preparing to construct new infrastructure at the 126-acre public complex, including restrooms, additional roads and parking, as well as utilities such as water and sewer. The new infrastructure will allow the popular outdoor facility to add seven new multi-purpose fields on an undeveloped section of roughly 40 acres on the northwest section of the property.
“This is exciting,” said Dan Johns, president and founder of Kidsports. “It feels good. It really does.”
“When I first went to the city council back in the late 90s with the master plan, I was almost embarrassed to present it,” he added. “It showed 26 fields, and I didn’t want to be one of those people who proposed something they didn’t do.”
Johns has achieved his vision. Established in 1999, the expansive green acreage today features 30 fields that accommodate a variety of sports, including baseball, softball, football and soccer. The site frequently hosts large events, including the annual Three Blind Refs soccer tournament, which attracts over 2,500 players. Last spring it hosted the Class AA state softball tournament.
“It’s a tremendous facility to be able to have here that is so well located,” Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President Joe Unterreiner said.
“It’s a great community success story.”
The Kalispell chamber conducted a study that found $7.6 million in economic impacts to the community related to events hosted at Kidsports.
“Kidsports has been so successful and done so much for our community,” Kalispell native and City Councilor Tim Kluesner said.
“From when I grew up compared to now, sports have become such a large, important role in our young kids’ lives. And it’s not about ability and being the best; it’s about getting kids active — physically active and mentally active — and making friendships, learning responsibilities and things like that that you learn from sports.”
The city of Kalispell in late 2012 approved using $2.26 million in tax-increment finance funds to purchase a permanent easement that cemented Kidsports’ current location on state-owned school trust land.
The construction of fields and other amenities at the site has come from the support of community members and user groups.
The latest expansion is following that tradition of fundraising. At its April 17 meeting, the city council approved awarding state grant funding to LHC to tackle the infrastructure construction. The state Department of Commerce in late 2015 awarded the city a $1.41 million youth recreation grant for Kidsports’ infrastructure, and LHC, a local contractor, emerged with the lowest bid, roughly $1.1 million. LHC previously built the entire complex except for Miracle Field.
The addition of new fields is relying on community fundraising, Johns said.
The nonprofit organization needs to raise roughly $1 million to establish the seven new fields and about half has already been collected, Johns said.
“Kidsports is going to have to raise the money to finish the project,” he said.
The organization has worked with WGM Group to complete the future expansion’s design, which shows the seven pads lining up on the northwest section of the property near Treeline Road.
Construction of the new fields could begin this fall and would require roughly a year for grass to grow to become sufficiently established to accommodate games by 2019, Johns said. The new fields would be large enough to host lacrosse, which requires more space than other sports.
Johns said future plans include the goal of adding a third Babe Ruth baseball field and an inclusive playground that offers adaptive structures for individuals with special needs.