Phil Champlin calls it a hidden gem.
If you’re driving along Interstate 90 near Barker Road in Liberty Lake, you have to crane your neck to see where the HUB Sports Center is located. The view of the building is mostly covered up by a recreational camper business on a road that fronts the freeway.
There’s nothing attractive about the HUB’s mostly cement exterior. But poke your head inside the 66,000-square foot building and you’ll see why people are flocking there for various activities including high school sports.
It’s Champlin’s vision to keep it open for years to come. The HUB, a nonprofit, is in the middle of a capital campaign to secure the property and its future.
Hired in 2009 as executive director, Champlin has taken a facility that was on life support and given it hope.
HUB isn’t an acronym but Champlin created one that is fond to him.
“I call it the Huge Unique Building,” he said. “Really, that’s what it is.”
To make it sustainable, Champlin has had to be creative in the programs and events offered. Not long after he was hired he was expressly tasked with seeing if it could become self-sustaining.
The HUB has been host to the USA Boxing trials. It’s offered a gamut of activities, from pickleball to karate. It’s also the home of an after-school program for at-risk middle school students.
The building opened in 2003 as Sport USA. It operated for 18 months before it defaulted and it returned to Garco Construction.
It sat vacant for another 18 months and was almost sold as a warehouse.
“That would have been a tragedy,” Champlin said.
Faith-based Upward Basketball, headquartered in South Carolina, took over. In 2007, HUB took over. Two years later, Champlin was hired.
“The board of directors was infusing capital to keep it going,” Champlin said. “I was given six months to come up with a plan.”
It was difficult at first for Champlin to secure commitments for rental of the building for events such as club volleyball.
“My original sales pitch was ‘Bring your event here – we should be open,’ ” Champlin said. “Obviously, that only gets you so far.”
So Champlin asked the board in May 2010 for more certainty. He needed a line of credit that would guarantee operation for a year.
“I needed to be able to look people in the eye and say bring your event here, we’ll be here,” he said.
So a line of credit for $100,000 was secured. The HUB used $25,000 of it, Champlin said.
By the end of 2010, the HUB was self-sustaining.
In 2010, 99,505 people walked in the HUB’s door. Last year, that number had almost doubled to 178,200.
Rental revenue has gone from $126,015 in 2009 to $278,946 last year.
And between 2010-14, the overall economic impact from out-of-town visitors increased from $1.4 million to $6 million, according to Spokane Sports Commission estimates, Champlin said.
An anonymous donor, through the Inland Northwest Community Foundation, put up $3.2 million to purchase the property from Garco in 2012 to take it off the market and hold it for future purchase for the HUB, which was given until December 2016 to raise the money to take over ownership.
That’s where the capital campaign comes in. Champlin said the goal is to raise $3.9 million, which would give the HUB a $700,000 cushion for operating costs, programs and scholarships for youth who can’t afford to participate in programs.
The HUB is leasing the building for $3,000 a month, Champlin said.
“If we can buy it, that would be money we can put back into programs,” he said. “We started out paying more a month for our lease and that allowed us to build up money for a reserve fund. We have $160,000 in reserve now.”
The HUB is gearing up for a breakfast kickoff next month for the final stretch of the campaign drive. Champlin said $500,000 has been pledged to date. The final push includes selling naming rights for the building ($1 million) and naming rights for two of the five basketball courts at $500,000 each. Those courts are the most visible from the lobby. Naming rights can be purchased for two other courts at $250,000 each. And naming rights can be purchased for $100,000 for the lobby.
Champlin believes the rest of the money will come in. It’s a matter of momentum, he said.
“It’s a one-time ask to secure the facility long term,” he said. “Once a business buys the naming rights for the building we think everything else will fall into place. People told us we were crazy to run a capital campaign during this economic time. But we couldn’t turn down this opportunity given to us to secure it for this community.”
So what happens if the campaign falls short?
“We don’t know exactly,” Champlin said. “If we’re close and we can show that we can get there, I think they’ll extend us some time. They don’t want to own the building.”
Although it’s a large chunk of money, this is less of a risk, Champlin said, than when he was trying to secure events when everything was a mystery in late 2009.
“It’s not a guess that it’s going to work. The infrastructure is there. We’re self-sufficient,” he said. “Go find another athletic property that can say that.”
Champlin would like to feature more high school sports. From January through April, the HUB is home to club volleyball tournaments including the Pacific Northwest qualifier.
A couple years ago when Freeman High was going through construction, the boys and girls basketball teams practiced and played at the HUB.
The HUB has offered a summer high school volleyball league the past two years. Champlin said 12 teams were involved the first year and it expanded to 16 this summer. Colville coach Shaune Montgomery has had his team in the summer league.
Montgomery is owner/director of the Spokane-based club program Catalyst Volleyball. He has an office at the HUB.
“Without the HUB we wouldn’t have a place to operate,” Montgomery said. “There’s a lack of gym space. A lot of schools are going away from allowing club teams to use their gyms. For a long time people were getting free gym space in high schools and middle schools. You can’t do that anymore. With HUB, you rent your space and time and you know it’s there.”
Montgomery, who lives in North Spokane but drives to Colville to coach in the fall, believes Spokane could support another facility similar to the HUB.
“I think there’s a need for one in North Spokane,” Montgomery said. “I’ve never had any issue working with the HUB. It’s an honorable group of people. Their morals and values are solid. I love working with them.”
Four teams in the Mountain Christian League for boys and girls basketball teams in private schools use the HUB.
Champlin is planning to offer a summer tournament next year for four Greater Spokane League schools, four North Idaho schools and four Montana schools. He’s dubbed it “Battle at the Border.”
The first day would be a state vs. state competition for bragging rights, Champlin said. Based on the outcome, the teams would be seeded for a bracket tournament the final day.
The HUB will never stray away from its core events, which are targeted toward elementary and middle school students.
Champlin also sees a future for expansion. The HUB sits on 8.5 acres of which the building accounts for 5 acres. Plans for the undeveloped acreage north of the building calls for a multiple-use field for soccer, lacrosse and football.
Adjacent to the property to the east are about 60 acres owned by the county. Champlin said the county plans to develop it into seven softball fields and one baseball field and would convert the existing softball fields at Plantes Ferry into more soccer fields.
The Central Valley School District also has land that borders the county property. Long-range plans call for another middle school with a track and other athletic amenities, Champlin said.
So if the capital campaign is successful, Champlin said, Liberty Lake would have several opportunities for athletic events for years to come.
“Sports are a great economic driver, especially youth sports,” Champlin said. “Spokane is already a great destination for youth sports. We want to tap into that more. We’ve been blessed with this great space. We’re trying to be good stewards with this resource.”
Champlin encourages people to tour the HUB and see for themselves the potential of the facility.
“It’s one thing to read about it and see pictures,” he said. “I think if they come and see it for themselves they’ll be even more impressed. It’s more than a concrete building. There’s life in here.”
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