Officials break ground for Turf Sports Complex


FREDERICA — Between jokes at the expense of P. Brooks Banta, a string of backers touted the long-awaited groundbreaking Thursday morning of an economic-driving sports complex projected to generate millions of dollars for local businesses in the coming years.

Known as the DE Turf Sports Complex, the state-of-the-art facility next to Del. 1 in south Frederica will include 12 synthetic surface fields designed to draw large-scale youth soccer, lacrosse and field hockey tournaments full of out-of-state teams ready to spend money as part of the sports tourism industry.

The mood was light and upbeat as several dozen supporters attended a ceremony that was years in the making due to various delays and setbacks eventually overcome thanks to a tenacious approach by project backers headed by Bill Strickland, Shelly Cecchett and Gregg Moore of the Greater Kent Committee.

While Mr. Banta took a good-natured ribbing from speakers several times during the ceremony, the Levy Court president and his fellow commissioners received ample recognition for being key players in what Mr. Strickland described as a “great win for Kent County.”

Levy Court provided an 85-acre land plot at a nominal cost for the sports complex site, which is slated to host competition beginning in spring 2017.

Also, Levy Court serves as a conduit for bond financing that will help fund the $24 million facility. It is also supported by a $3.2 million grant from Delaware’s infrastructure fund that primarily was secured by state Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover.

Sen. Bushweller acknowledged virtually all Kent County legislators who backed the project from the start, whether they were Democrat or Republican, part of the Senate or House of Representatives, or from northern or southern Kent County, or anywhere in-between.

Also proving key was Levy Court Commissioner Brad Eaby, who steered the project through many requirements sought by the Dover Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The concept hatched

The genesis of the project began when Delaware Tourism Director Linda Parkowski and now former Kent County Tourism Executive Director Cindy Small realized the number of out-of-state requests they received regarding youth sports tournaments, and took their insights to Levy Court Administrator Mike Petit de Mange, which led to a building movement.

According to backers, a feasibility study estimated the facility will have an economic impact of $18 million annually after 10 years. Also, a separate University of Delaware study determined 180 construction jobs would be created for building the sports complex, along with the equivalent of 210 continuing, full-time jobs for the area.

Also high on the applause meter was Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan, a Kent County native who quickly got behind the sports complex proposal after replacing former secretary Shailen Bhatt in February 2015. In remarks on Thursday, Ms. Cohan said listening to organizers speak of project plans made her “proud to be a Delaware but also a lifelong Kent Countian.”

Ms. Cohan came across as such an advocate for moving the transportation component forward that she reportedly received a kiss from Mr. Moore at the conclusion of their meeting.

“I remember that vividly in a good way, Gregg,” she said with a bright smile, capturing the positive spirit marking the entire 40-minute ceremony.

Mr. Moore’s, of the Becker Morgan Group, greatest contribution was creating an architectural design and vision that translated to building plans, with adjustments along the way as hurdles and obstacles arose.

DelDOT’s contributions

The construction of an $18 million South Frederica Interchange near the sports complex will ease access and exit by 2018, along with safety for the visitors and a certain vitality for the area, Ms. Cohan said, which is part of a record upcoming six years of spending in Kent and Sussex counties.

Said Mr. Banta about Ms. Cohan, “Had she not become involved we certainly would not be here today.”

Continued Mr. Banta, “Truly there are no losers in this fantastic project.

“There are many winners including the state of Delaware and (its) kids and parents who will benefit from this …”

Executive Director Rob Smith was positively bullish on the prospects of DE Turf, which he said, “Can and will become one of the best sports facilities on the East Coast.

“It will attract teams and kids who will want to play here. The complex will get teams to come here … and we’ll get them to come back.”

Besides the competitive nature of participating in a sports tournament, Mr. Smith believes the “experience” associated with visiting DE Turf — which will host skill sessions and college recruiting seminars, along with have easy access to local attracting — will make trips from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia well worth it.

There’s tremendous potential in a high level sports facility that’s located within a four-hour drive of more than 20-million people in the Middle-Atlantic region, backers have maintained.

“The affect DE Turf will have on sports tourism in Delaware will be huge,” Mr. Strickland said. “Sports tourism was a $9 billion industry across the country in 2014. We know that this project is an economic engine that will ensure Delaware is well-positioned to get a sizable piece of that.”

A winning approach

A huge Notre Dame fan, Mr. Strickland couldn’t resist using a quote by legendary former University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant” to analogize the sports complex to sports itself.

“His quote was ‘Show class, have pride and display character. If you do, then winning takes care of itself’ … That’s why Kent County won.”

Highwater Management, a subsidiary of SoDel Concepts, will provide concessions; Richard Y. Johnson & Son will build the facility, and Mr. Strickland highlighted the use of Delaware-base companies to bring the facility to fruition.

Organizers said event coordinators and league officials seeking information about DE Turf can contact Mr. Smith at (302) 257-6813 or For more information on Delaware’s sports venues statewide, contact Delaware Sports Commission Executive Director Chris Giacomucci at (302) 672-6832.

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