DE Turf and DART to build ‘park & ride’ facility

DOVER — Kent Levy Court commissioners agreed unanimously Tuesday to allow DE Turf Sports Complex to pursue creation of a “park and ride” facility with the Delaware Transit Corporation (DART).

A park and ride is defined by DART as a lot available to park a car and ride transit or meet a carpool or vanpool. The specific site would service both DART and the Sports Complex. It would be located on 5 acres of land the complex leases from the county.

The $24 million, 84-acre, 12-field sports facility that located just southeast of Frederica off of Del. 1, opened last April.

Leadership with the group that manages the facility — also built on county-owned land — says their first year was successful beyond their expectations and the 2018 and 2019 calendars are filling to the point where additional parking will soon be necessary.

Bill Strickland, chairman of the Kent County Regional Sports Complex Corp., told commissioners that the two issues that “keep him up at night” in relation to the turf’s future is lodging and parking availability.

“In many ways, building the complex was the easy part, now we’re in the operating stage and there are challenges ahead,” said Mr. Strickland at a committee meeting earlier in April.

“One challenge is not having enough lodging. We want to capture as much of that lodging as we can here in Kent County, but we’re actually using local college dormitories to fill the need for some of the upcoming national events.

“The other challenge is not having enough parking to grow. When we initially examined this, our consultant recommended 950 spaces which we filled.

“But we’ve come to understand that those estimates were sort of soccer-centric and didn’t really reflect the number of vehicles present at lacrosse and field hockey events. At many of our events, we have lots of cars parking on the grass.”

The portion of land selected for the park and ride facility is separated from the Sports Complex by a DelDOT maintained service road. The county’s new agreement will allow DART sub-lease the property from the turf and make use of a temporary easement to “occupy,” and “construct and maintain” the parking facility for a period of 50 years.

With the Levy Court green-lighting the project, turf management noted that a lengthy approval process including stormwater management, site plan and DelDOT studies remain ahead. They estimate another six to eight months before the project is started.

The turf’s scores

Already seeking room to grow after only a year in business, DE Turf executive director Chris Giacomucci said the complex continues to shoot past original expectations.

“During the feasibility stage, some of our consultants didn’t seem to think this facility would be able to host a national tournament because you have to meet certain standards, but we have two scheduled for this year — The National Lacrosse Classic and the U.S. Lacrosse Youth Nationals,” he said. “The Classic is a weekday showcase so in mid-July we’ll have about 10 straight days of complete sell-out crowds.”

Mr. Giacomucci noted the DE Turf attracted 40,000 visitors to 20 events last year — even though they opened in April and were restricted during the summer due to road work on Del. 1.

“We had 920 youth teams come from all up and down the east coast, Canada, Colorado, California and all over the country,” he said. “The turf is really an engine that has been driving people to the state.”

The turf also claims to have generated 3,500 additional hotel room rentals during 2017 and $350,000 in added hotel revenue.

“We have contracts with 49 different hotels up and down the state, so we’ve been tracking our impact,” said Mr. Giacomucci. “82 percent of those room rentals were in Kent County.”

Management has the expectation that the turf will continue on its current trajectory.

“By the end of 2018, we think we’ll have had 50 events throughout the year,” said Mr. Giacomucci. “Our debt service obligations begin in January of 2019, and we’re on track to meet them. In addition to renting the fields out, we’re establishing our own brand of tournaments called the mid-Atlantic tournament series to add to our revenue.”

Beholden to the cooperation and partnerships the turf has struck with the county and state, Mr. Giacomucci stressed that the turf’s success is ultimately a shared one.

“Recently on Twitter, some of these national events have been using the tagline #RoadtoDelaware as part of their marketing campaign because their national championships are going to be hosted here,” he said. “That’s just a really cool thing that’s been circulating through social media because it’s a powerful form of national recognition for the state.”

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