Over the course of my career, I have always tried to keep the best interests of the Erie community in mind. The formation of the Erie Sports Commission was no exception. The Commission exists to ensure Erie remains a player in the growing multibillion-dollar sports tourism industry, while driving money into Erie’s economy through sporting events, and providing entertainment and competitive opportunities for Erie residents.

But competition for these impactful events has become fierce. In the five years that the ESC has existed, destinations nationwide have formed new sports commissions and departments, and built new sports facilities at a staggering pace. In Pennsylvania alone, cities like Butler, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Valley Forge have taken new measures to increase sports tourism efforts. The competition for sports events has never been so steep.

Family First Sports Park CREDIT TIM SHARKEYrsI want Erie to stay relevant as a great host city for a wide variety of competitions, but in order for us to do so, it is vital to have the right facilities. With recent renovations to the Erie Insurance Arena, a second hotel added to the Bayfront Convention Center, our beautiful Presque Isle and top-notch collegiate facilities, Erie has so much to offer. However, the need for a multisport venue is crucial to remain competitive in this industry. Family First Sports Park has been Erie’s answer for many years, but in its current state, it is underutilized. Fortunately, a group of motivated and experienced individuals, the nonprofit Greater Regional Erie Team Training, Inc. (GREATT) led by Bob Catalde, has stepped up at a pivotal time to save the facility by purchasing and renovating it for the betterment of our entire community.

GREATT has worked hard to secure funding and find donors from numerous local, regional and state sources. But even more are needed to make Family First Sports Park the regional asset it has the potential to be. I hope that even current funding organizations and donors can revisit this project and invest further in its success.

Erie needs to have this project be successful. Cities around the country are capitalizing on this growing industry by building multisport venues with the capability to host large-scale tournaments. Just three hours away in Sandusky, Ohio, the new $23 million Sports Force Parks boast 10 turf multipurpose fields and the capability to host enormous tournaments for many sports. Officials in Hamburg, New York, 90 minutes from Erie, are planning a $30 million complex with twin ice rinks, multiple gyms and a field house. Look further, and you’ll find similar projects all over the country.

Erie doesn’t need to build a new facility. Family First Sports Park already exists. It just needs additional funding to complement the enthusiasm that GREATT possesses. The land, location and framework cannot be duplicated. The location makes the Park unique when compared to similar facilities. Many of these facilities sit far outside of cities because of the vast acreage they require, with little to no entertainment for travelers nearby. Family First is in the middle of one of Erie’s most popular entertainment districts, making it a desirable trip for traveling families.

In the early years of Family First, it served as a host to large-scale soccer tournaments, basketball and lacrosse tournaments, drawing huge numbers of tourists to our region, and driving spending to Erie’s economy. With increased funding and improvements, which include two new and much-needed ice rinks, the Park has the potential to create an even greater economic impact for the region. I’m convinced this will happen if the facility is purchased, renovated and restored to full operations under the plan put together by GREATT, Inc.

The failure of this project at such a crucial time would be a step backward and a missed opportunity. This isn’t a project about sports — this is a project about Erie. I hope that everyone in our community will rally behind Bob Catalde and GREATT in support of this effort.

We need to support Family First Sports Park so we don’t lose it. For Erie’s sake.