DE Turf celebrates 102,000 visitors in 2018

Levy Court President Brooks Banta, center, will be the first to have a jersey hung in his honor at the DE Turf sports complex. Shown with Mr. Banta are DE Turf executive director Chris Giacomucci, left, and sports complex board chairman Bill Strickland. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

DOVER — A blue and green Brooks Banta jersey will be the first to go up in DE Turf’s ring of honor.

Bill Strickland unveiled the honor Wednesday at the Greater Kent Committee’s legislative luncheon after sharing updates and memories of the strides and struggles of the sports complex near Frederica.

Mr. Banta, president of the Kent County Levy Court, was among those who came up with the plan for the complex to be built on 80 acres of unused county land with the vision that it would be a sports tourism economic driver in Central Delaware.

Mr. Strickland, chairman of the complex board of directors, was one of the key players involved in the Greater Kent Committee initiative that came up with the idea in 2009.

But, in 2013, the project seemed in doubt when DelDOT and then-Gov. Jack Markell delayed construction of a necessary South Frederica overpass. The overpass was already on the books, long before the idea of the sports complex.

“We were at the crossroads of the complex when the governor and the (former) DelDOT secretary Shailen Bhatt told us in a nice way that we were wasting our time,” said Mr. Strickland Thursday. “We quickly and rather dejectedly called (county administrator) Mike Petit de Mange and President Banta and said we need to come and give you an update.

“I sat in front of Brooks and Mike and told them we were done. Brooks said to me, ‘Young man, your dejected nature and your pessimism are not serving you very well at all. You need to get your butt out there and figure out a way to make this happen because we’re counting on you.’”

Mr. Strickland said the jersey recognizes Mr. Banta for his role in DE Turf and his encouragement.

The 17 on the jersey represents the year the complex opened.

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Chris Giacomucci, DE Turf’s executive director, reviewed the first full year of the complex at the luncheon for Central Delaware business leaders.

He said weekend visitors for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and other events attracted more than 102,000 visitors in 2018. And data on those visitors showed that nearly 14,000 rooms — valued at $2.3 million — were booked in Delaware.

Bringing in out-of-state travel sports families is the name of the game.

Mr. Strickland said last year’s economic impact from DE Turf was about $31 million to the area.

As DE Turf tries to assert its place in that market, it is trying to address additional needs — more parking, more lodging and incentives to bring tournaments here. The latter has grown from bargaining power groups have because of the known value to host communities. Consider that Richmond, Virginia, offered $30,000 to a national lacrosse organization to host a tournament.

Mr. Giacomucci said DE Turf has received a $300,000 grant from the Longwood Foundation that would help expand parking areas at the complex.

New amenities that will be added include a Del-One pavilion to offer shade to guests, a playground and a First State Orthopaedics center where athletes can receive care.

Youth sports for local athletes continue to grow at DE Turf. There were 1,300 registrants in programs last year and this year will grow with the creation of new lacrosse teams.

Team fees, sponsorships, programs and more have been used to bring in revenue to support sports complex operations.

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Terry Murphy, CEO and president of Bayhealth, was among the attendees of the luncheon Thursday.

He said nearly 6,000 people braved the cold last weekend to get a tour of the new hospital at the Bayhealth Sussex Campus in Milford.

Andrew West is executive editor of the Delaware State News.

Reach Executive Editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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