Kent County Regional Sports Complex ‘a full go’


FREDERICA — After years of successfully maneuvering through a series of obstacles and hurdles, Kent County Regional Sports Complex backers made their biggest moves yet in the past few days.

Rob Smith

Rob Smith

After a nationwide search that attracted 85 candidates, former Philadelphia Union Vice President Rob Smith was chosen to become KCRSC’s permanent executive director and move the project forward.

The Thursday announcement coincided with news that Lincoln-based Richard Y. Johnson & Sons Inc. was the lowest bidding contractor for the project. The bid came in below budget.

Acting Executive Director Shelly Cecchett said “the project is a full go as result of their outstanding bid” and noted that three other “excellent” contractors were under bid and fully capable of building the facility.

“We are thrilled with the continued interest in the Kent County Regional Sports Complex and are eager to see this economic engine come to fruition,” Ms. Cecchett said.

KCRSC officials will meet with Richard Y. Johnson & Sons representatives next week to determine construction details and dates, Ms. Cecchett said. Earlier, organizers expressed hope in beginning play at the facility to be known as “DE Turf” on Columbus Day weekend 2016.

Mr. Smith, 55, will oversee all operations at the upcoming 85-acre, 12-field artificial turf facility to be located in Frederica next to Del. 1. “DE Turf” could bring up to $30 million annually in economic impact to central Delaware, organizers said, and create “a home for scores of youth through professional clubs to train and compete.”

“We are thrilled to have such an accomplished professional as Rob to lead this important project that will have a significant economic and recreational impact on our region,” said Bill Strickland, president of Kent County Regional Sports Complex Board of Directors.

Before joining the KCRSC venture, Mr. Smith was vice president of soccer development and community relations with Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union, where he oversaw the development and execution of revenue generating youth programs in the Greater Philadelphia region, according to a news release.

‘Eager to join’

In seven years with the Union, officials said, Mr. Smith also managed the club’s marketing rights with state youth organizations in eastern Pennsylvania and in Delaware and oversaw all on-field game day operations.

Additionally, Mr. Smith worked in regional operations, sales and marketing roles with Nike and Nike Soccer and was instrumental in the development of Pennsylvania youth soccer powerhouse, FC DELCO.

“I am very excited and eager to join the DE Turf team,” Mr. Smith said in a news release. “I believe each of us brings our collective experiences to every stop along our journey.

“In order to ensure the Kent County Regional Sports Complex serves our residents and those who visit our premier facility, I embrace the challenge to draw on what I’ve learned over the years, to create a great venue with exceptional programs for all to enjoy.”

On Thursday morning, Mr. Smith said he would remain involved in other ventures, all with potential avenues toward becoming connected with the KCRSC.

“I will continue to stay in contact with the Philadelphia Union since there are synergies there that could be mutually beneficial and directly impact the future success of the Kent County Regional Sports Complex,” he said.

Mr. Smith said he’ll take a two-pronged approach in his first days as executive director — making sure the KCRSC construction begins as soon as possible while simultaneously circulating among the sports community locally and throughout the state.

“People are excited about the project and now is the perfect time to meet with them and have them share their ideas of what they would like to see and what is needed,” Mr. Smith said.

Sales and marketing

Hiring full- and part-time staff will be determined by the progress of the complex construction and scheduling of events coming its way through sales and marketing. Mr. Smith was an early part of the United Sports Training Center in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and has five years of development experience with Nike, and is seeking similarly experienced sports specific marketing and sales staff members, saying, “There are a lot of moving parts.”

“I love the potential of this and accept the challenge,” he said. “I love to build things and see them come to reality …

“I know the challenges ahead and have some business resources and colleagues whom I will be able to reach out to and bounce ideas off them.”

Ultimately, Mr. Smith said, the chief goal is to bring a significant economic impact to the area, along with providing local athletes opportunities to take part in an ample amount of quality sporting events and activities.

Already, Mr. Smith said, regional soccer and lacrosse entities have reached out regarding becoming involved with the KCRSC. He said he has reached out to national connections and envisions an event “that could raise eyebrows” within two to three years.

Before that, Mr. Smith said, a series of smaller scale national-related events and activities will build momentum for “DE Turf” participation, along with building local and regional support. Besides soccer events, Mr. Smith said he’ll search through a wide array of athletic ventures, including perhaps field hockey, lacrosse, flag football and local sports organizations, among others.

“This facility and its location is central to a lot of what happens regionally,” Mr. Smith said.

When DE Turf hits its stride, multi-year contracts with organizations for scheduled events and activities will add to the long-term stability of the facility, Mr. Smith said.

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