With more than $4.2 million already invested in the project, members of the Greater Kent Committee are working hard to ensure there will be no delays with it comes to building roads leading to the nascent Kent County Regional Sports Complex.
Past President William J. Strickland briefed committee members on the status of the complex during an Oct. 2 luncheon, unveiling a new $24 million plan for the center. Earlier proposals had pegged the price at $17 million for the roughly 85-acre project.
Strickland also brought up a subject on the minds of many, a decision by the state Department of Transportation to postpone, apparently for up to two years, a planned overpass project south of Frederica that would serve the athletic fields.
Although the delay was presented in a draft document that reshuffled road building projects throughout the state and is still under DelDOT review, Strickland said any postponement would seriously jeopardize the athletic complex, which many see as a major economic benefit for Kent County.
Fewer fields, more players
“This is the only project in my lifetime where I know all Kent County elected officials agree it’s great for economic development,” Strickland told the group, gathered on the top floor of the Duncan Center in Dover. There is a definite market for the complex, which would support soccer, field hockey and lacrosse tournaments, and which also could be used for entertainment and variety venues, Strickland said.
It is a true public/private partnership, he added, with funding for much of the complex itself coming from individuals and corporations, and governmental support through land donations, infrastructure improvements and roadway construction.
U.S. Olympian – and Delaware resident – Carrie Lingo has been instrumental in raising cash for the field hockey stadium. A former member of the USA Women’s Field Hockey squad, Lingo now sits on the board of directors for the US Field Hockey Association.
The Central Delaware Soccer Association also has signed on as an anchor tenant, Strickland said.
Greg Moore, vice president of the Becker Morgan Group architectural firm and a member of the Greater Kent Committee, presented a map showing the layout of the complex, which has been redesigned with 12 athletic fields instead of the previously planned 15. Although there are fewer fields now on the drawing board, they are larger than what was originally planned and each can be divided into two separate fields for younger athletes, Moore said.
That, plus all-synthetic field surfaces and nighttime lighting, are additional reasons for the increased cost, he added.
Moore’s firm has partnered with Clough, Harbour & Associates of Albany, N.Y., a nationally-recognized engineering consulting firm with a dedicated sports design division, to bring the plan to fruition, he said.
Page 2 of 3 - That plan also includes a 1,500-seat stadium that could be used for non-sporting events and parking for 900 vehicles, he said. The overall design – including the use of synthetic turf – is planned to minimize maintenance costs and repair time, while maximizing the time the fields can be used, Moore said.
In addition, a planned indoor facility, similar to one at the Maryland Soccerplex has been eliminated from the plan, primarily because the Maryland building was not being used enough to justify a similar building in Kent County.
“People were not coming for an indoor facility, they came for the outdoor fields,” Moore said. “They’re struggling to make [their money] back, so we dropped it.”
Legislators to push road project
But while everyone at the luncheon seemed pleased with the redesign, it was the possibility of losing the direct access to Route 1 – even for two years – that drew the most concern.
DelDOT’s plan, even though it is in the draft stages, would “be a huge change for Kent County and a huge impact” on the sports complex, Strickland said.
Construction on the $23.5 million road upgrade was to begin this fall, with construction starting on the sports center early next year, allowing completion of both projects at approximately the same time in 2015.
Strickland said representatives from the Greater Kent Committee will be meeting with DelDOT officials later in October to try to iron out the proposed postponement of the south Frederica interchange.
Members of Kent County’s delegation to the General Assembly have vowed to help in those efforts.
“Kent County’s legislators are united behind this project,” said state Rep. W. Charles “Trey” Paradee III, (D-West Dover). “We are putting together a letter to Gov. [Jack] Markell and Secretary [Shailen] Bhatt to let them know we are in support of this.”
Paradee cited the economic benefits of the sports complex, saying that people bringing their children to central Kent County would result in increased revenue at local stores, restaurants and hotels. For those benefits to be realized, the road project also must stay on track, he said.
“We’re very much in favor of this project and would like to see the Frederica overpass stay on schedule as planned.”
State Sen. Bruce C. Ennis, (D-Smyrna), concurred.
“We were disappointed to see the change in priority,” for the Frederica project, Ennis said. “This is a great opportunity for economic growth in Kent County.
“Those of us in the Senate and the House have been behind this project from the beginning,” Ennis said, adding he, too, is hoping to reverse the DelDOT finding.
Page 3 of 3 - “I’m optimistic we’ll have success,” he said.