News release from Pittsburg State University
To borrow a line from one of the most famous sports-themed movies of all time, “If you build it, they will come.”
That’s certainly proven true for the Robert W. Plaster Center at Pittsburg State University — a collaborative effort funded through the City of Pittsburg, support from the county, student fees, and private donors.
This week, its staff are rolling out the “green carpet” to vendors and attendees of the 36th Annual Four State Farm Show at what just might be the largest event that the building has hosted to date.
Vendors and exhibitors have begun arriving and will continue throughout the week. The show is planned from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 21-22 and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 23.
In 2012, when the building still was just an idea, it wasn’t an easy sell. The decision to invest in it was unlike any the Pittsburg City Commission had been asked to consider.
“The university’s proposal made us pause to consider exactly what a facility like this would mean for Pittsburg,” said then-City Commissioner Monica Murnan.
Advocates argued that it could be an economic engine for all of Southeast Kansas. The city hoped to attract visitors to the community by hosting things like boat and RV shows. The university had its sights set on hosting national track championships. The county knew that attendees to any such events would mean a boost in hotel room revenue and food sales.
When officials broke ground in 2014, it was hard to imagine what the building would host in the span of six years:
- Three National Collegiate Athletics Association Division II Track Championships.
- Three National Junior College Athletics Association Track Championships.
- A National Association of Intercollegiate Athletic Track Championship.
- Special Olympics events.
- A Taste of Pittsburg.
- A Presidential Gala.
- It also served as the gathering spot for 12 socially distanced Pitt State commencements in the past six months.
- NCAA and NJCAA events already are booked here through 2024.
The building flies under the radar in comparison to the architecturally showy Bicknell Family Center for the Arts next door at the corner of two busy streets and with its curving, western-facing wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that beautifully reflect the setting sun.
The Plaster Center is a large, unassuming gray rectangle that is tucked in behind the Weede Gymnasium.
But inside, where the action is, it’s clearly state-of-the-art.
The main athletics portion of the Plaster Center measures 450 feet by 275 feet — or 40 feet longer than the center field wall in Kauffman Stadium. The space is big enough to park two Boeing 787 Dreamliners, nose-to-tail.
Surrounding the field is the 300-meter Harvey Dean Track, one of the finest in the U.S. and named after alumnus and Pitsco, Inc. CEO Harvey Dean. Along the southern wall is seating for up to 1,500 fans.
Overlooking the track and field is the 11,000-square foot ProMaxima Strength and Conditioning Center, funded by an alumnus who built his company into one of the top names in commercial fitness equipment.
Last year, PSU announced the signing of a multi-year contract with the Four State Farm Show that relocated it from the all-outdoor venue south of Pittsburg where weather often was an issue.
Using the Plaster Center will allow the show to offer more than 400 climate controlled indoor booths to exhibitors and vendors, while more than 500 booths including large machinery will have an ideal location outdoors. All parking will be on hard surface lots.
In lobbying donors and partners to build the center, Kendall Gammon, a former PSU athletic standout and NFL player who became a major gifts officer for the university’s athletic department, said it could play a key role in recruitment of top athletes.
“The Plaster Center certainly has helped recruiting efforts across the board; all of our sports have benefited from the facility,” said PSU Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Jim Johnson. “We’ve gained one of the best strength and conditioning facilities in the country, in addition to the premiere indoor track and field venue and an elite indoor practice facility.”
Since the venue opened, PSU’s track programs have won two national championships.
“All of our head coaches would attest to the great impact the facility has had on their programs,” Johnson said.
Another lobbyist for building the center, local business leader Jeff Poe, told the City Commission that it was “the piece our community has been missing for years.”
It would be a perfect venue for the university and local businesses to put on regional and national events, he told them.
He was right.
Consider this study of its impact during a one year period from May 12, 2017, to May 11, 2018:
- 20,186 athletes
- 3,286 team coaches/staff
- 17,186 spectators and non-sports attendees
- Guests to Plaster Center events spent nearly $2.8 million locally on retail purchases, food, and lodging during that period.
- The Plaster Center was responsible for creating and sustaining 53 jobs during that period.
“It is a good thing that we partnered because it showed the willingness of the city to partner with other entities in pursuit of their goals,” said Pittsburg City Manager Daron Hall. “It also proved that good deals can be struck which will benefit all parties involved and the community as a whole. And, it set the stage for important projects to come, like Block22.”
The county still contributes one-sixth of its transient guest tax collections toward the Plaster each year — a smart investment, noted Devin Gorman, executive director of the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“The Plaster Center has been a great asset to our community, particularly in terms of tourism and economic impact,” he said. “The vision of PSU, City of Pittsburg, and Crawford County to partner on a facility of this magnitude clearly resulted in a win for everyone. We are excited the Four State Farm Show will be able to utilize the facility for their event, as well.”
The Farm Show
Visitors will get to test drive lawn mowers, see agricultural rural living exhibits, and get an up-close look at the latest and greatest in farm machinery.
Pre-pandemic, the show typically attracted 20,000 visitors in three days and had more than a $1 million in economic impact annually.
While it’s unknown how the pandemic will impact attendance, Gorman said the show is a valuable event for the entire county, and the benefits of it being on campus this year will make it more enjoyable for everyone.
PSU Chief Strategy Officer Shawn Naccarato described it as another example of innovative partnerships being of direct benefit to the community.
“This is just a great example of the sort of things we anticipated would be made possible by the building of the Plaster Center and the investment that the city, as well as the private donors, made to build that facility,” Naccarato said.
Kansas Secretary of Commerce David Toland, who last year made the trip from Topeka to help announce the new venue, said at the time “There is no better venue than the Plaster Center here at Pitt State; this is a wonderful facility that offers new opportunities for this event to grow. It’s clear this is going to be a huge success.”
— Pitt —