Diamonds In The Rough: Chesterfield Plans To Create Destination Softball Complex at Daniel Park

Based on the success of River City Sportsplex as both a community amenity and a sports tourism asset that drives economic activity through visitor spending, Chesterfield is working to apply that model across all five of its magisterial districts.

In fiscal year 2023, Chesterfield hosted 83 events that produced an estimated $48 million in local economic impact — $36 million, or 75%, of which came from events at River City Sportsplex.

Over the same period, the 105-acre Genito Road athletic complex also booked more than 4,000 field rentals by 100-plus local organizations.

To continue expanding Chesterfield’s facility offerings beyond rectangular field usage, while also enhancing the user experience for both residents and visitors, the Sports, Visitation and Entertainment Department has partnered with Parks and Recreation and County Administration on a plan for the development of new venues and refurbishment of existing public facilities.

The first project to be undertaken as part of that initiative is the creation of a six-field destination softball complex at Harry G. Daniel Park at Ironbridge.

Parks and Recreation recently reclaimed operational control of Daniel Park’s softball fields, which had been leased to a private operator for more than a decade. Recognizing the fields need extensive maintenance to accommodate local play, the department has allocated nearly $1 million in its FY2024 budget to complete a series of fundamental enhancements: Regraded fields for drainage and surface consistency, new infield material, new irrigation, new sod and new outfield fencing.

Work is under way and the fields are scheduled to reopen in early June 2024.

Even with those improvements, though, county officials concluded a more extensive renovation is necessary for Daniel Park’s softball complex to become a competitive sports tourism venue.

At its meeting last Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors approved the use of $4.1 million in surplus transient lodging tax revenue to fund the project.

“Chesterfield’s lodging tax collections must be used toward projects that directly impact tourism-related spending in the county, and our history with River City Sportsplex tells us that every dollar invested in facility enhancements will come back to us many times over by bringing in visitors to stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores,” said J.C. Poma, executive director of Sports, Visitation and Entertainment.  

Parks and Recreation has identified the following improvements that will directly impact the on- and off-field user experience at Daniel Park:

  • Replacing the existing bathroom with a new facility that is connected to public sewer and designed around visitor and player requirements for fastpitch softball tournaments, to include dressing areas for umpires
  • Replacing all outfield fencing and utilizing temporary fencing for field setup flexibility 
  • Installing new backstops and dugouts and improved spectator seating
  • Creating a championship field with covered spectator seating and an enclosed press box for high-profile games, tournaments and events
  • Providing shade and other aesthetic amenities in the site’s existing common areas 
  • Repaving and striping the parking lot 

“Daniel Park has the bones in place to become a first-class softball complex,” said Neil Luther, director of Parks and Recreation. “Building a 6-field tournament facility from scratch would easily approach a $50 million total price tag, but the planned improvements will accomplish our objectives at a fraction of the price.”   

Paired with six additional fields at the nearby Bird Athletic Complex, Chesterfield has a chance to become the hub for fastpitch softball and youth baseball in the mid-Atlantic region.

Chesterfield’s diamond sports schedule for calendar year 2024 already includes 39 events (and counting), with 22 tournaments booked on Daniel Park’s softball fields beginning next June.

Attracting such events is key to diversifying the county’s sports tourism portfolio, increasing visitor spending and driving commercial tax revenue that reduces the local government’s reliance on residential real estate assessments to fund public services.

According to an annual study by the Virginia Tourism Corp. (VTC), visitors spent more than $582 million in Chesterfield in 2022, eclipsing the previous year’s total by $46.7 million or 8.7%.

Tourism supported more than 6,051 jobs with a combined payroll income of nearly $163.8 million, while generating local tax receipts of about $28.5 million.

The data, which was compiled for the VTC by Tourism Economics, reflects spending by travelers who stayed overnight in paid accommodations or took trips at least 50 miles from home.

County residents also directly benefit from having weekday access to national-level athletic facilities, such as River City Sportsplex and the renovated Daniel Park Softball Complex, for practices and games. 

“In Chesterfield, we are always looking for thoughtful, cost-effective ways to enhance quality of life for our citizens,” said Dale District Supervisor Jim Holland. “The planned improvements to Daniel Park will accomplish that goal, while attracting additional out-of-town visitors and giving them opportunities to experience everything we have to offer here. It is unquestionably a win-win.”