PEORIA — It's safe to say the scope of the Peoria Sports Center — make that the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex — has expanded significantly over the last month.
The name change revealed during a late-morning news conference Wednesday was the most obvious alteration from plans announced in November for the facility in Northwest Peoria.
Project developers have formed a partnership with Hillerich & Bradsby Co. of Louisville, Ky. If the company name sounds unfamiliar, its most prolific product might be more recognizable.
For more than 100 years, the firm has manufactured Louisville Slugger bats. They're used by baseball and softball teams from the youth level to the major leagues.
According to Hillerich & Bradsby officials, this is the first time their firm has participated in such a project. Construction on the complex, which is to feature 10 bat-and-ball diamonds and a 125,000-square-foot dome, is to begin this spring.
"I don't think it's an overstatement to say this project is probably going to have the biggest impact on our community since this building was built," Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said as he stood on an elevated platform in the Peoria Civic Center lobby.
"As we all know, many times when these discussions start with big visions for big things, they don't always end up being so big," Ardis said. "Contrary to that, this project started off big and is getting bigger."
It was big enough to lure Dan Cunningham from East Peoria, where he was the city's director of tourism and special events. Part of that duty included operating EastSide Centre, a multi-diamond facility that plays host to youth events and the high school softball state finals.
Cunningham is to manage the new facility, to be located near Orange Prairie Road north of The Shoppes at Grand Prairie. His last official day in East Peoria is Dec. 31.
"With Louisville's involvement, it's been pivotal in getting us over the hump," Cunningham said. "The beauty of this is that we're going to have a lot of problems, but they'll be problems of success. We're not going to have the space we need for the demand.
"This is a big deal."
Cunningham said the new facility is expected to play host to between 11,000 and 12,000 games annually on its synthetic fields. That compares to about 2,200 games at EastSide.
Hillerich & Bradsby's involvement has helped expand the $33 million facility's projected reach, which had been about a 300-mile radius. That still is the core, according to Cunningham. But teams from across the country and elsewhere now are in play, apparently.
Kyle Schlegel, the Hillerich & Bradsby vice president of global marketing, said he's received interest from college programs about using the complex for single games or conference tournaments. International team presences in Peoria also are possible.
Page 2 of 2 - "This was an easy sell for us," said Schlegel, who declined to put a dollar figure or a time frame on his company's commitment.
"We've been around for 130 years," he said. "We anticipate being here for the long haul."
Louisville Slugger products are to be sold at the complex, Schlegel said. Part of the firm's museum in Louisville, which includes bats used by big-league baseball players, might be transported to Peoria.
Also planned are other exhibits and multimedia presentations that appear similar to the March Madness Experience, held during the high school boys basketball state finals each year at the Civic Center.
It all is expected to attract at least 250,000 people annually, according to Cunningham, who presented his blueprint in a meeting with Hillerich & Bradsby officials in Louisville.
"You sit down and meet with him, and you know his heart is in it," Schlegel said. "He shared his vision and we almost didn't let him leave without getting something signed. We're very excited."
Nick Vlahos can be reached at 686-3285 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.