Field Report: Foley Sports Tourism Complex

By Matt Swenson, Connect Sports (published with permission)

Foley Sports Tourism Complex’s roller coaster ride toward completion is heading for a thrilling conclusion. A huge construction site—520 acres, all told—is being transformed into an all-inclusive resort for athletes and their families. Sixteen sterling fields are already in heavy use.

The final pieces are being put in place at Foley Sports Tourism Complex, which is quickly evolving into a top destination for sports events.

On a recent visit to the Alabama coastal town, one of the 21 planned rides was already standing. The skeleton of Foley Events Center, a 90,000-sq.-ft. indoor facility, was in place, and a 150-room TownePlace Suites by Marriott was taking shape. Phase one of OWA, as the entertainment and hospitality district is known, is scheduled to open this summer. Rolling Thunder, a massive roller coaster, will run through the middle of OWA.

Once the rides and event center are in place, Foley will have more than a sporting chance at drawing visitors from Pensacola, Florida, and/or Mobile, Alabama, both 45 minutes away. Even closer is Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, which, combined with Foley, sees 6 million visitors per year.

“This is definitely a regional destination,” says Kristin Hellmich, OWA’s director of marketing and public relations.

Foley Scores Big

OWA will be a major selling point for Don Staley, the complex’s executive director of sports. As it is, Staley, the former University of Alabama soccer coach who went on to lead the Tuscaloosa CVB and sports commission, has been driving new business to Foley since the fields debuted last May.

“The folks who’ve come out for tournaments have been blown away by amenities afforded to them in our infancy,” he says. “Imagine what it’s going to be like later.”

While later is turning into sooner each day, Staley’s events calendar remains packed.

About 2,000 athletes participated in the Hoyt Archery Alabama Pro/Am in February. The Archery Shooters Association’s McKenzie Tour event had an economic impact of $1 million for Foley. USA Archery Collegiate 3-D Championships will also come to town Oct. 27-29.

Flag football, gymnastics and soccer events are also lined up throughout 2017, with the Sun Belt Conference’s Women’s Soccer Championship Oct. 29-Nov. 5 being arguably the most prestigious competition.

Beyond sports, the events center will be available for trade shows and conferences. Foley’s hope is OWA will be a big draw, particularly for family-friendly events.

It’s amazing how quickly a large pile of dirt can transform a community.