Select Page

Soccer was new to Kansas City scholastic sports when Shane Hackett was in high school.

“But there was a German soccer coach who saw me as the fastest kid in school and told me, ‘I’m going to teach you to play soccer,’” said Hackett, a 1982 Park Hill graduate.

That tutelage not only prepared Hackett to play soccer, it set him up for his present career at the helm of Heartland Soccer Association — the nation’s largest youth soccer league — and his unlikely role as a new force in the high-stakes game of commercial real estate development.

Shifting sands in the retail industry have created a strange new animal — large mixed-use developments anchored by youth and amateur sports complexes. And that has made Hackett — who controls where 30,000 youths on 1,300 teams practice and play, and where huge regional tournaments are held — a go-to guy for nearly $800 million worth of such projects in the Kansas City area.

Eyeing a new game

Fifty-three million traveling athletes participate in U.S. youth sporting events, generating $7 billion in annual economic impact, according to Florida-based consulting group Sports Facilities Advisory. The numbers alone become even more attractive at a time when e-commerce has reduced the number of traditional retail anchors. That’s why three area development teams have announced plans for youth-sports-anchored mixed-use projects.

All three have asked Hackett and Heartland Soccer to help make their anchor complexes successful.

The Overland Park-based association, which now attracts tournament teams from 16 states to the Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex and Swope Soccer Village, has signed on as the master tenant and field scheduler for two of the new developments: the $400 million Gateway Sports Village in Grandview and the $94 million Futsal City USA planned in Lenexa.

But Heartland declined to partner with the third: developer Flip Short’s proposed $280 million Paragon Star development along Interstate 470 in Lee’s Summit. That will make more challenging Short’s task of attracting enough local and travel teams to Paragon Star’s 10 synthetic turf fields.

The making of a player

Hackett, who became executive director of Heartland Soccer 11 years ago, took a long and winding road to that catbird seat.

During high school, Hackett played his way to a soccer scholarship to William Jewell College. He participated in the U.S. Olympic Development Program and played internationally while working on a second bachelor’s degree at Harlaxton College in England.

After completing graduate studies in communications at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Hackett put his media and business skills to work. He founded, sold and invested in multiple broadcast, technology and training companies and created nationally syndicated radio shows focused on professional baseball, football and basketball.

But then he found himself consumed by soccer again through an association that’s been the key driver behind the sport’s growth to such a grand scale in the Kansas City area.

Heartland Soccer, he said, was founded in 1977 “to pull all the different soccer leagues and entities in the area together to get the complex built at Heritage Park (through a Johnson County Park & Recreation District bond issue) and support it.” The park has 18 grass soccer fields northeast of Lackman Road and West 175th Street in Olathe.

The sport took another huge step with construction of the $36 million Overland Park complex. The project, which opened in 2009, was financed through city hotel guest tax revenue. That’s why Heartland has a “stay to play” policy, requiring traveling teams to register at Overland Park hotels.

The complex attracts local, regional and national tournaments. But it might not have been built had Heartland not stepped up and made the bet that it could cover its big master-tenant lease payments by keeping the fields rented out at rates steeper than teams were used to paying.

Hackett said Heartland’s explosive growth, assisted by the popularity of Sporting Kansas City, has allowed it to keep all the fields it controls at capacity, save for the few winter weeks when there’s no outdoor soccer. And that’s a big task, he said, given that “we’re the scheduler for almost every soccer field around Kansas City.”

Heartland Soccer now is preparing to be the area’s king of futsal, a variant of soccer often played indoors, as well.

In September, Heartland announced the acquisition of Futsal KC, the nation’s largest futsal league, with more than 400 teams engaged in indoor play each winter.

In addition, Heartland will be the master tenant for developer Mike Christie’s Futsal City USA project, which will be anchored by a 128,000-square-foot center including nine futsal fields.

Hackett said indoor futsal’s local growth has been limited by the number of available locations. That will change, he said, with Heartland involved and 24 additional courts to be included at Gateway Sporting Village.

Choosing sides

Given Heartland’s clout, it wasn’t surprising that Paragon Star’s developer reached out to Hackett as that youth-sports-anchored project began to take shape.

Short said Paragon Star’s location, passed by 90,000 motorists a day, is its greatest asset.

“All these parents that are driving their kids to the Overland Park complex, which is the best youth sports complex in the United States, are driving by our property — from Blue Springs, Independence, Raytown, Lee’s Summit, Pleasant Hill,” he said. “All those families are driving by what will be the greatest sports village in the United States.”

Ironically, Paragon Star’s location led to it being passed over by Heartland Soccer, Hackett said.

“The Paragon Star guys reached out to us about two and a half years ago,” Hackett said. “We looked at that complex, and we looked at Gateway Sports Village. But the majority of local soccer is located in Johnson County, and the Gateway project is literally 15 miles down 135th Street, which (starts in Johnson County) and turns into Highway 150 (across the state line).”

Heartland Soccer preferred Gateway Sports Village’s Missouri Highway 150 location and also its development team, which includes former Kansas City Chiefs safety Deron Cherry and Kurt Pycior, who played on the William Jewell soccer team with Hackett back in 1984. Thus, Heartland agreed to become the master tenant for Gateway Sports Village’s sports complex.

Hackett subsequently joined the Gateway development team, giving him a direct financial stake in that project.

“After Heartland committed to that complex and being the master tenant there,” he said, “one of their investment partners was leaving. That opened it up.”

No problem, Short thought. When asked whether he thought Heartland Soccer still would use Paragon Star for league and tournament play, Short said, “By all means.”

But Hackett said Gateway Sports Village’s 15 synthetic fields will accommodate the association’s growth and provide relief for its overplayed fields at Heritage Soccer Park.

“We don’t need those fields (at Paragon Star),” Hackett said. “We wouldn’t do anything there.”

Short remains hopeful. Besides hosting various youth sports, Paragon Star will generate traffic by serving as Eastern Jackson County’s answer to the Kansas City Power & Light District, he said. It also will be traversed by thousands of hikers and bikers on the Little Blue Trace Trail and a new stretch of Missouri’s cross-state Katy Trail that will run through the project.

Paragon Star recently signed KC Select Soccer Club as a tenant, Short said. But KC Select includes about 80 youth soccer teams — a drop in the bucket compared with the number Hackett’s association controls.

Rob reports on real estate and development.