The $8.5 million expansion at the Gulfport Sportsplex is the kind of forward thinking we can heartily applaud.
The expansion will position the sportsplex to take a big leap forward in the number of college-level teams it attracts.
Leisure Services Director David D'Aquilla told reporter Anita Lee the eight new ballfields and two multipurpose fields that can be used for football or soccer will keep Gulfport competitive in the sports tourism niche for the next 10 to 20 years.
Sports tourism is a big deal.
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For example, the city last month hosted 11 college teams at its Mississippi Gulf Coast Softball Classic. Those teams filled up to 330 hotel rooms.
And that's a bunch of college kids exposed to the wonder and beauty of the Mississippi Coast, kids we're confident are now word-of-mouth tourism ambassadors.
But the Coast isn't stopping there. Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, the regional tourism bureau, has dedicated a person to sports marketing. And, it soon will have a comprehensive plan for sports tourism prepared by experts in the field. That's thinking ahead.
Marketing is crucial to success in the competitive sports tourism market and Gulfport and VMGC should be putting their best and brightest behind that effort.
"We definitely view sports travel as an integral part of the tourism market for the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Renee Areng, VMGC executive director, told Lee.
The area just east of the sportsplex is about to take off, at least in part because of the sportplex's success. Three hotels have opened just off U.S. 49. And, two more restaurants -- Mugshots Grill & Bar and a Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar -- are being built.
An $8.5 million investment in the area is sure to pay dividends.
This editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists, and cartoonists are their own.