Members of the Sussex Sports Center Foundation this week requested that Sussex County financially support their endeavor at the Sussex County Council meeting on Sept. 26, giving a presentation on the project to the council.
The foundation is planning to build a sports facility for resident and visitor use in Georgetown, just north of Route 9 on Sandhill Road.
“The County has been approached by a non-profit foundation which was created for the idea of establishing a sports complex within Georgetown town limits but outside of the town center,” said County Administrator Todd Lawson on Tuesday. “This has been an ongoing discussion for several months with several members of the community. We’ve gotten to the point now where it is time for County Council to hear directly from the foundation…”
The park would be located on 70 acres of land donated by Joe Schell to the foundation. It would include playing fields for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and informal touch-football games, as well as walking trails, pickleball courts and playground equipment. The center would have eight regulation-sized soccer/lacrosse fields, paved parking for approximately 350 cars and restroom facilities.
The foundation is requesting $1.5 million in support from Sussex County to make the facility a reality.
Zac Crouch of Davis, Bowen & Friedel, who also serves as a member of the foundation’s leadership committee, said the project is located within Georgetown town limits. He said it is expected to go for preliminary review soon and that the Town of Georgetown is on board with the project.
“The whole thing here is to provide a facility that is for the community,” he said, noting that the project could solve some long-standing issues.
“That intersection has had problems for a number of years… One of the issues DelDOT has had … is drainage and land to align the intersections. We’ve been in communication with DelDOT. The foundation will be donating two parcels of property at the intersection — that way the alignment of that intersection can be done perfectly, so that it can correct some of the problems that are there today and have been there for a while.”
Schell noted that DelDOT is applying for a $7 million federal grant to help fix the intersection, in conjunction with the project.
Crouch said a portion of land will also be donated for drainage, as there is a “huge drainage problem in that area.”
Bobby Horsey said the foundation anticipates having plan approvals by the first of the year, with the facility to open for play in the spring of 2019.
“I think this project is a big asset to our county,” he said.
Horsey also took the time on Tuesday to recognize Schell for the donation of the large piece of property.
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the generosity of Mr. Schell, who donated this property.”
Schell drove home the point that the non-profit organization would not be looking to make money, but to be a facility for all.
Sources of funding, once the facility opened, would come from events, clubs and church groups meeting there, and summer camps, as well as things like wedding receptions held outside.
Schell said the project in total would cost $4 million to construct, with 59 percent of the funds coming from private-sector donations. The foundation is seeking 41 percent in public-sector contributions — $275,000 from the State of Delaware, $25,000 from the Town of Georgetown and $1.5 million from Sussex County.
“The proposal we made to you… at some point, further down the road, if you all want to get into the parks-and-rec business, you’ll have the option to buy the facility from the foundation for $1.”
Schell said the facility would be a county asset, believing in the “built it and they will come” mentality.
“Do I think there’s enough demand right here in Sussex County? Yes… The community, we think, really wants this.”
Councilman I.G. Burton said he was struggling with the idea of a tournament facility versus a community recreation center.
“When you look at the financial side, if it’s a community facility and it’s getting a lot of activity but not generating enough income… I think the focus should really be towards a community-driven facility.”
Schell said the sports complex would host a minimal number of tournaments, leaving that to Pete Schwartzkopf’s Sports at the Beach.
“[Pete] believes that facility’s economic impact on Sussex County is over $1 million per weekend. They have tournaments there 36 to 38 weekends a year… He thinks it’s $40 million of economic impact,” said Schell of conversations he’s had with Schwartzkopf. “But that’s not what we have in mind.”
Councilman George Cole asked if the project would be completed in phases, to which Schell replied that all construction would be done on one phase, with the exception of at some point replacing portable toilets with a permanent restroom facility.
“Everything else we’re doing right away.”
He also noted the support the project has already received from organizations including the Henlopen Soccer Club, Seashore Striders, La Super Liga de Delmarva, First State Pickleball Club and more. The foundation also received a letter of support signed by a number of state legislators.
Councilman Rob Arlett asked if the County had the funds with which to support the large grant request. County Finance Director Gina Jennings said the County has $1 million in its budget for capital improvements.
Arlett recommended asking the Town of Georgetown and the State to augment the remaining $500,000. Cole added that the council could amend its budget.
Arlett also questioned whether it would affect other clubs and their feasibility. He added that he would like to hear from the community as to what they think of the project.
The council determined on Tuesday that, while there would not be a public hearing scheduled related to the facility, interested members of the community could write letters or emails to the County regarding the project, or attend a County meeting and speak during the citizens’ privilege portion of the weekly agenda.
Those who wish to email comments may do so by https://sussexcountyde.gov/comments-sports-complex or mailing comments to Sussex County Council, P.O. Box 589, Georgetown, DE 19947. For more information on the project, visit https://sussexcountyde.gov/news/feedback-proposed-sports-complex.
In other County news:
The council voted unanimously to appoint Ocean View resident Bruce Mears to the vacant Board of Adjustment seat formerly filled by Bud Rickard. Mears had his public interview before council at Tuesday’s meeting, at which he noted he is in his sixth four-year term on the Sussex County Building Code Board of Appeals, of which he became chairman in 2003.
“I’ve been self-employed since I was 19. I founded my company, Bruce Mears Designer-Builder in 1985; that’s 32 years of experience in the building industry. I’ve worked side-by-side with Planning & Zoning, I go to all the educational programs I can go to.”
Mears said he wouldn’t have issues attending the BOA meetings, held every other Monday, due to his being self-employed.
Asked about any possible conflicts of interest if he were to be appointed to the board, Mears said there were none he was aware of.
“But being a local Sussex County resident, I’m sure I’ll know a few folks or be associated with a few folks to apply to the Board of Adjustment, at which time, if I deem it a conflict, I will recuse myself.”
Cole said he was happy to have Mears serve on the board, in an appointment that will expire in June 2020.
“I think developers, everybody, will get a fair shake.”
The council also received a presentation from University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Director Mark Isaacs regarding the $10,000-per-year grant the County awards to the program.
Isaacs said the monies are spent in six areas, including extension programs, family consumer sciences, production agriculture programs and activities in their poultry diagnostic laboratory.
“The big one I’d like to highlight is the internship program. Last year was the first year the council provided $10,000 to go to the Sussex County internship program,” said Isaacs, noting that the County is now in its second year of financial support to the program.
“Academia is great about teaching students book-knowledge, but when it comes to real hands-on knowledge, there’s a lot to be desired, so internships are a great way to get these students out of the classroom and gain hands-on opportunities. The support the council has provided has been monumental in allowing us to do that.”
Isaacs said, for internships, once they identify students, they try to find out what they’re interested in and even provide a rotating internship for those who may not have a definite focus.
“We try to give them all different kinds of career opportunities that are within our county.”
He added that the internship program has given students the opportunity to grow in their fields and build professional relationships.
“We put these students where they have to interact with the public. It’s a great program. Our goal is to double the internship program through industry support, as well as council support.”
This past summer, the program had four interns, two of whom were supported by the grant provided by the council.
Arlett asked where the interns land following graduation, and if they stay in the county.
“Since last year was the first time we did it, we don’t have any that have graduated yet. Our intent, though, is to bring them back.”
Isaacs said the university hopes to eventually grow the program to host about a dozen interns every summer.
“Thank you for your continued support. … Not one penny is going north. It all stays in Sussex,” he said. “I just want to thank you all for what you do for the county.”
“Thank you for all you do, seriously,” replied Council President Michael Vincent. “You guys do great things out there, and we’re happy to help with the internship program, and we’ll continue to do that.”