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Kids play soccer on a synthetic turf (via Fairfax County Park Authority)

Concerns over equity and the recommendation of specific sites have delayed Fairfax County’s push into sports tourism.

At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity proposed that the county start advertising that it’s seeking proposals from private entities to develop sports tourism facilities.

However, he pulled the motion when it became clear that there wasn’t enough support from other supervisors to move forward. When he made the request in May, the board voted instead to have staff reassess a consultant’s report to ensure equity is considered when evaluating future projects.

“We’ve been sitting on the sidelines far too long. It’s time for us to get in the game or not,” Herrity said. “This is something the board has clearly expressed that it would benefit both our sports community, our taxpayers, our hotelers, our restaurants, our hospitality industry. We need to move forward and stop trying to find ways not to do it.”

Board Chairman Jeff McKay argued that Herrity, in fact, had “delayed the process.”

“I want to make it crystal clear that this board supports sports tourism…What we are doing is trying clean up the fact that it wasn’t done right,” he said. “Equity was left behind.”

A consultant hired by the county released a report in August 2020 recommending how the county could “more effectively compete within the sports tourism marketplace,” including specific sites where a large facility could go in the county.

The Park Authority-backed study identified nine different sites that it said could support facilities like a rectangle field complex with 16 fields or an ice complex, comparable to the one in Ballston.

However, as several supervisors brought up, none of the sites were vetted for equity, environmental impacts, or even the land’s current ownership.

Many of the preferred sites are in the north and northwest part of the county, while none are located in the south. Several sit in protected watershed areas, while a few others are privately owned, like George Mason University property, as opposed to county-owned.

The equity review requested in May was finished over the summer. Last month, the Sports Tourism Task Force recommended proceeding with an advertisement and “to consider the equity impact review as it reviews potential public-private partnerships” instead of at this stage in the process.

This didn’t sit well with several supervisors, including McKay, who wanted to make sure that the advertisement made clear that the recommended sites in the study were not county-approved.

“Frankly, I wish the consultant report didn’t exist. I think it was created under false pretense…It had no look at equity,” said McKay. “I don’t necessarily support any sites in there…They are in no way in any shape or form an endorsed list of locations by this board.”

Herrity accepted an amendment that the ad include language urging developers to be “creative” and recommend a site not on the consultant’s list.

Additionally, McKay asked that the entire board look at the advertisement to vet the language prior to it being released.

The plan now is to have staff update the report before Herrity resubmits the motion. While he hoped to have it by the board meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 25), Herrity told FFXnow that November now looks more likely, though he “was ready six months ago.”

He said this is the first program, in his recollection, “forced” to have an equity review as well as the first time that he remembers where the board will review the language for a request for proposals.

Nonetheless, he’s ready for Fairfax County to get in the game and build facilities that could help bring more revenue to the county, particularly with increased hotel occupancy.

The rest of the board appears to agree with the idea of exploring sports tourism, but it has to be “done right.”

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get this done right that will permanently…affect the long-term sustainability of sports and sports tourism in this county,” McKay said.

Photo via Fairfax County Park Authority

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A sky terrace is planned at the proposed Fairfax Peak site in Lorton (via Fairfax County)

The climb continues for Fairfax Peak, a long-anticipated project to bring one of the largest indoor ski facilities in the world to Fairfax County.

The county is considering partnering with Alpine-X, a Tysons-based company, to lease land at the county-owned I-95 landfill (9850 Furnace Road) in Lorton for the public-private project.

Alpine-X CEO John Emery said work on the project is ongoing, and the company plans to file an application to rezone the site this year.

“At this time, we continue to make progress on the design of the facility and are coordinating with the county on the timing for filing,” Emery told FFXnow in a statement.

In 2018, Alpine-X submitted the proposal to build a 450,000-square-foot snow sports facility with a planned 1,700-foot ski slope. The facility could include:

  • Multiple ski slopes at a 20-degree angle
  • An area for skiing and snowboarding with ramps, jumps, and rails
  • A bunny slope for beginners
  • A luxury hotel
  • A gravity-powered, mountain coaster that will slide from the summit to Occoquan Regional Park
  • A gondola to ferry riders from the park to the facility’s base

Other features could include a water park, a gravity ropes course, and recreation areas. SnowWorld, a partner of Alpine-X, has signed an agreement with the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to possibly operate or own some of the planned facilities.

The county would lease the land to Alpine-X, allowing the company to build, own and operate its own facility.

A spokesperson for the county said negotiations with the company are ongoing.

The project is contingent on several factors, including land use entitlements, state regulatory requirements, and other considerations. In October of last year, the county’s Board of Supervisors voted to extend the negotiation period on the project until December 2023.

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Kids play soccer on a synthetic turf (via Fairfax County Park Authority)

Fairfax County is exploring how private partnerships could bring more sports facilities to the area, but the five-year journey has now been slightly prolonged by an additional step.

The Board of Supervisors passed a measure on Tuesday (May 24) directing Fairfax County Park Authority and Neighborhood and Community Services staff to address racial and social equity issues when evaluating potential projects with input from Chief Equity Officer Karla Bruce and her team.

The additional review follows a consultant report released in August 2020 that identified possible Park Authority sites where private businesses could create sports facilities, such as a complex for 16 “rectangular fields” illustrated as soccer fields, another area for 10 baseball fields, an indoor track facility, a natatorium, and more.

The consultants’ report came through the Sports Tourism Task Force that the county created in 2017. One of the group’s several subcommittees involved Alpine-X representatives seeking to build the Fairfax Peak indoor winter slope facility at a landfill in Lorton.

On Tuesday, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who chaired the task force, asked the board to direct the county executive to call for developers to submit public-private partnership proposals as identified in the report.

“Sports tourism facilities are rapidly developing around the East Coast and throughout Virginia,” he said during the meeting. “Vying to meet the demand of this incredibly recession-proof industry, we need to take advantage of our desirable location and extensive sports community by developing the identified sports tourism facilities.”

However, Chairman Jeff McKay modified that motion, clashing with Herrity on how to move forward. McKay said that some areas of the county largely lack these sports sites.

“We have teams, youth leagues throughout this county, that can’t find space today,” McKay said. “Before we…move forward with advancing larger complexes that might be out of reach for some of them, let’s make sure we understand where…inadequacies exist.”

McKay requested that the county create an equity impact assessment on the sports tourism report by the end of 2022.

The board approved consideration of that alternative 9-1, with Herrity dissenting. With Herrity’s original motion dislodged, the board approved the amended board matter 9-0 for a final vote in which Herrity abstained.

Photo via Fairfax County Park Authority

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