Fields of reality: Once a dream, sports complex will see play by Easter

As turf goes down at the Kent County Regional Sports Complex’s DE Turf, the South Frederica overpass rises in the background. (Special to The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

As turf goes down at the Kent County Regional Sports Complex’s DE Turf, the South Frederica overpass rises in the background. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

FREDERICA — The dust clouds, rolling machinery and busy construction workers visible from Del. 1 are one thing.

Seeing the developing DE Turf multipurpose sports complex up close is quite another.

Standing next to a completed synthetic turf field with its vast green surface big enough for an Olympic event makes the $24 million project seem quite real.

Construction of the Kent County Regional Sports Complex makes good progress.

Construction of the Kent County Regional Sports Complex makes good progress.

There’s an identical field next to it, and completion of all 12 fields is moving ahead at a quick pace.

Looking across DE Turf these days, it’s easier to envision a multitude of youth athletes competing in field hockey, soccer and lacrosse tournaments during a weekend stay in Kent County.

The main office and a maintenance building are taking shape, with three concession stands and a 1,500 seat championship stadium on the way.

Officials described construction of the facility as 40 percent complete earlier this week, with the first youth sports event scheduled for Easter weekend 2017.

Looking over the work are, from left, Cole Grader, general manager of High-water Management, Chris Giacomucci, interim executive director of the Kent County Regional Sports Complex, Bill Strickland, board chairman of the complex, and Dan Wheeler, director of operations, High-water Management.

Looking over the work are, from left, Cole Grader, general manager of High-water Management, Chris Giacomucci, interim executive director of the Kent County Regional Sports Complex, Bill Strickland, board chairman of the complex, and Dan Wheeler, director of operations, High-water Management.

Eventually, backers hope that the venue will create an $18 million economic impact for the local community as visitors experience a trip that includes hotel stays, restaurant stops and whatever else comes with traveling to play sports.

Executive Director Chris Giacomucci said a field hockey event is scheduled for the Easter debut, and he’s received interested contacts “across the board” from soccer and field hockey organizations planning to fill their upcoming competition schedules.

Count Kent County Regional Sports Complex Corp. Chairman of the Board Bill Strickland as a fan of the new administrator.

“I would say Chris has proven to be performing beyond expectations,” Mr. Strickland said. “His early returns are setting the stage for a successful first year in 2017 and more importantly provided a framework for the many years ahead.”

The project has already paid off in construction jobs for Delaware companies, led by builder Richard Y. Johnson & Son and sub-contractors.

The project has already paid off in construction jobs for Delaware companies, led by builder Richard Y. Johnson & Son and sub-contractors.

An idea blooms

Credit remains due for the original work done by the Greater Kent Committee, Mr. Strickland said, headed by Executive Director Shelly Cecchett. The original idea was hatched in 2008 by State Tourism Director Linda Parkowski and then Kent County Tourism Director Cindy Small after out of state requests for such a facility to host tournaments arrived regularly for years.

According to Ms. Parkowski, “DE Turf is going to bring players and coaches, parents and families to Delaware.

“It will raise the visibility of Delaware as a sports tourism destination throughout the U.S., and especially in the Mid-Atlantic.”

Ms. Parkowski pointed to a University of Delaware study indicating that in addition to construction jobs, “more than 2,000 jobs would be available during camp and tournament seasons – equivalent to 210 full-time, continuing jobs for the area.”

Bill Strickland, board chairman of the Kent County Regional Sports Complex, talks about construction progress at the site off of Route 1 just south of Frederica.

Bill Strickland, board chairman of the Kent County Regional Sports Complex, talks about construction progress at the site off of Route 1 just south of Frederica.

Kent County Levy Court continued to assist the project throughout, and the complex gained further momentum with Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary and Kent County native Jennifer Cohan in February 2015.

Gradually, the original founders are dialing back from “being an operational entity to a governance entity. We’re going to provide support for Chris and everyone associated with contributing to the well being of DE Turf,” Mr. Strickland said.

Mr. Strickland described DE Turf as the Greater Kent Committee’s “signature project.

What we’re seeing now is the fruits of their steadfast commitment to making this a reality for Central Delaware and the state overall.”

Making it happen

A DelDOT built interchange on Del. 1 next to DE Turf is scheduled to be completed in two years or less, adding arrival and exit ease for thousands of drivers from the Mid-Atlantic region expected to arrive in upcoming seasons.

After years of angst on whether the project would survive a variety of issues, the path forward appears clear.

“The organization is in a great position, the finances are taken care of and the construction is going beautifully,” said Mr. Giacomucci, who arrived from the Delaware Sports Commission on Aug. 1.

Mr. Giacomucci is in an interim position after Executive Director Rob Smith left due to family reasons in July. He’s on a one-year contract but “wants to be part of the plan moving forward” beyond that.

By late September, sports directors to oversee field hockey, soccer and lacrosse will be in place, according to administration.

The project has already paid off in construction jobs for Delaware companies, led by builder Richard Y. Johnson & Son and sub-contractors. A $3.2 million grant from the State of Delaware’s infrastructure fund provided an early base of financial support.

Fitting into the local flavor, literally, is Rehoboth Beach-based concession provider Highwater Management, a subsidiary of the SoDel Concepts hospitality group.

Director of Concessions Dan Wheeler plans to bring the same model for providing food and drink used at the Sports at the Beach baseball complex in Georgetown. DE Turf operations will require 30 to 35 part-time employees overseen by five full-timers.

“I like the location and the fact that almost everything is being handled by local companies,” Mr. Wheeler said. “We’re a local company and happy to fit into that. It’s good for Kent County and it’s good for everyone all-around.”

Besides the standard hamburger and hot dog offerings, Highwater will offer health-conscious wraps, nutrition packs, salads, flatbread items and fresh meats, officials said.

“We’ll offer alternatives oriented to sports training,” Mr. Wheeler said.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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