Recreational Improvements Aim to Enhance Residents’ Quality of Life, Diversify Economy

When it comes to recreation in its many forms, Chesterfield has a solid foundation – “good bones,” some would say – and yet still so much room for growth.

Accessing that enormous untapped potential to enhance quality of life for 370,000 residents, while diversifying the local tax base and reinforcing Chesterfield’s reputation as an ideal place to live, work, play and stay, requires collaboration among county leaders, staff and many public- and private-sector partners. 

For the first time, Chesterfield has a team to coordinate those efforts and bring to bear a collective vision that can take the county to another level.

Formed in May under the leadership of Executive Director J.C. Poma, the four-person Sports, Visitation and Entertainment Department (SV&E) is working to increase tourism spending, partnering with Parks and Recreation to improve public facilities, and marketing everything the county has to offer to residents and visitors alike.

“Our goal is to enhance quality of life in Chesterfield, but also stimulate and diversify our economy,” said Poma in a presentation to the Board of Supervisors at its Wednesday afternoon work session.

According to an annual study released in September 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%.

That 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 – equivalent to 5 cents on the county’s real estate tax rate.

In particular, Chesterfield’s profile as a sports tourism destination is growing rapidly. The county hosted 83 sports-related events during fiscal year 2023 that included nearly 116,000 participants, another 205,000 spectators, more than 30,000 room nights in local hotels and generated $48.1 million in direct local economic impact.

Those numbers will rise sharply in the current fiscal year, as the county expects to host between 130 and 140 such events by next June 30.

“Chesterfield is in a strong position, and from my understanding it’s going to be getting stronger,” said Chris Smith with The Collective Best, a national consulting firm that was hired earlier this year to evaluate recreational facilities in the county and make recommendations about future enhancements. 

Smith and his team traveled to Chesterfield in September, visiting River City Sportsplex, Horner Park, SwimRVA, Stratton Park, Daniel Park, Bird Athletic Complex, Rockwood Park, the Career and Technical Center @ Hull, Midlothian Tennis Club and Goyne Park.

Based on those site visits and interviews with stakeholders, they concluded that Chesterfield’s facilities have “good bones,” but need “modernization.”

“That means placemaking within individual facilities. One of the spectacular things about sports tourism, particularly when you’re dealing with youth sports, is most often it’s not just one person coming with the athlete – it’s the whole family,” Smith said. “At some point during that sporting event, it’s inevitable that the other children are going to turn to a parent and say, ‘Can we go do something else?’ What enhancements are we including in our facilities to accommodate them?”

Planned improvements at River City Sportsplex, which has generated an estimated $128.6 million in direct local economic impact since 2018, include construction of four new lighted fields, a playground/splash park, a picnic area with two shelters, a mixed-use trail and fitness course.

Chesterfield is extensively renovating the six existing softball fields at Daniel Park to create a destination softball complex, and has plans to create a similar softball facility at Horner Park in Moseley, along with two public boat launches on the James River east of Interstate 95.

Next month, the county will hold a groundbreaking for the Beulah Neighborhood Park, which will include the Richmond region’s first championship-level cricket pitch among other improvements.

“Our residents benefit from having access to first-class fields and facilities. That also allows us to diversify our economy through tourism,” Poma said.

There is a significant cost savings for Chesterfield households associated with proximity to high-quality sports venues. According to Destination International, an average person spends $208 per day during an overnight trip. Competing in tournaments alongside teams from across the country, then eating at home and sleeping in your own bed instead of a hotel, can add up for a family over the course of a year.  

Chesterfield already has a number of desirable amenities: Metro Richmond Zoo, Henricus Historical Park, Richmond Volleyball Club, The First Tee, Perkinson Center for the Arts and Education, the Children’s Museum and Virginia State University’s Multi-Purpose Center.

The county is also home to a growing brewery and winery scene, premier public golf courses, venues for weddings or other large events, well-preserved historical sites and a thriving public park system. 

Now Jon Lugbill, executive director of Richmond Sports Backers, is working with Chesterfield to explore the possibility of creating a bike park and adventure center near Pocahontas State Park. 

With 1.1 million visitors a year, Pocahontas is Virginia’s most frequently visited state park. Its 8,000 acres include 120 linear miles of trails and two lakes.

County staff were among the 19-member delegation that traveled to Bentonville, Arkansas earlier this year. During the trip, they visited the 40-mile Razorback Trail, part of a trail network that generates an estimated $157 million in economic impact for an area best known as the corporate home of Walmart.

“That really was done to drive quality of life and bring people to work there,” Lugbill said. “The Walton family knew they had to bring in top talent to compete with Amazon.”

Officials across the Richmond area see similar potential from the future Fall Line Trail, a 43-mile mixed-use trail running north-south between Ashland and Petersburg. About half of the Fall Line’s 18.6-mile Chesterfield section is expected to be under construction next year. 

“The Fall Line is going to be an incredibly transformational project for our region,” Lugbill added.

Planned investments in public facilities and growth in the local hospitality sector, with several new hotels in various stages of development, underpin the Sports, Visitation and Entertainment Department’s new slogan: “Come for the fields, stay for the fun.” 

“Be Chesterfield and people will flock here,” Smith said, “It is critical that the unique charms of this county be brought to the forefront and capitalized on to enhance quality of life for its citizens.”