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May 9, 2013
From Bulletin staff reports

The Smith River Sports Complex has received a boost in funding from The Harvest Foundation as the complex continues working toward self-sufficiency.

Harvest has awarded the Southern Virginia Recreation Facilities Authority $655,000 over three years to put toward the sports complex's operating costs, Harvest announced Wednesday. That brings the foundation's total funding for the complex, toward both construction and operation, to more than $10 million.

Harvest paid the complex's roughly $8.5 million construction cost. Since it opened in 2009, the facility has received an additional $1.7 million in grants from Harvest, said Gladys Hairston, the foundation's marketing director and program associate.

Billy Russo, operation director for the complex, said that as the complex has generated more and more revenue, Harvest has reduced its support by roughly $25,000 to $50,000 per year.

Hairston and Russo said Harvest funds are used toward various costs such as marketing, facility maintenance and office expenses.

Revenue generated by the complex now accounts for about 56 percent of its budget, with the remaining44 percent being Harvest funds, Russo said.

The recreation authority aims for the complex to be an economic driver for the community as well as a venue for local events, Hairston said.

The complex generate more than $2 million in revenue in 2011 and more that $3 million last year, when it hosted more that 250 events, including athletic tournaments, camps and community gatherings, she said.

Revenue is expected to approach $5 million this year, she added.

The revenue includes rental fees, event sponsorship, concession sales, donations and funds raised in the community, Russo said, adding that a small amount of revenue is received from event ticket sales and hotels.

Harvest funding is useful to the complex, according to Russo.

"But we also understand they (Harvest) don't want to fund us forever," he said. "That's why we've changed our strategy."

The complex now has a full-time development employee whose job is to find other funding sources, such as grants, he mentioned.

Russo said the goal is for the complex to be self-sufficient, hopefully in three years.
"We're headed in that direction," he said, adding he cannot be certain that the goal will be achieved by then.

For now, Harvest considers the complex to be a good investment.

"Athletics have always been a major pastime in Martinsville-Henry County," Hairston said. "To have a facility like the Smith River Sports Complex in our community has only increased this passion, as evidenced by the increases in events and revenue each year."

It is rare, she said, to drive by the complex at night and on weekends and not see hundreds of players, coaches and spectators there.

Hairston said the complex has become "a cherished facility" for local school and recreational soccer, t-ball and football programs.

It also draws thousands of athletes and spectators from locally and beyond for non-traditional sports such as Ultimate Frisbee and lacrosse, she said.

The authority's board, the complex's staff and numerous volunteer "have worked tirelessly to promote this local gem throughout the region," she said. "they've done an exceptional job."

The complex has become "the premier sporting destination for our region and it has proven its ability to generate significant income for our local economy," said authority board Chairman Jimmy McGarry.

"We are pleased that Harvest has recognized the significant impact" that the complex has on Henry County-Martinsville, McGarry said. "We continue to grow our schedule of events for local sports and fitness activities, as well as tournaments attracting out-of-town visitors."