County discusses potential funding for planned sports complex

Date Published: 
Nov. 17, 20177

The Sussex County Council is planning to make a decision regarding the planned Sussex Sports Center before the end of the year, after discussion at their Nov. 14 meeting.

County Administrator Todd Lawson said the County received 57 comment submissions on the issue via its website, and 62 comments total. The County also received a number of petitions from various groups in support of the project, with a total of 580 signatures.

The County first received the request for financial support of the project from the Sussex Sports Center Foundation at the council’s Sept. 26 council meeting.

The facility 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-size soccer/lacrosse fields and paved parking for approximately 350 cars on 57 acres of that land.

The project, in total, would cost an estimated $4.4 million to construct, with 59 percent of the funds to come 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. Foundation representatives have said the County would have the option to purchase the complex for $1 from the foundation if it decided it wanted get into the parks-and-rec business.

Schell said such a sports complex was needed in Sussex County.

“We’ve got great schools, we’ve got great beaches, but we don’t have great places to play [sports].”

Georgetown Mayor Bill West said kids are something that is near and dear to his heart, and said his town is fully behind the sports complex.

“To give these groups a place to call home, a place to call their fields and play on a regular basis. The Town of Georgetown would love to do this on its own,” he said, but with the many improvements Georgetown has made over the last few years, the Town is in debt and could only financially support the project with its $25,000. He said that, although the Town would not be able to contribute more in monetary donations, the Town would provide policing of the facility, which is located within town limits, as well as snow plowing.

“These are things we are committed to do on a continuing basis.”

West also called attention to the economic impact that such a facility could have.

“You take 700 kids playing soccer, and each one has two parents… They’re going to need a place to eat and sleep. I’ve only got two hotels, with another one being built, hopefully. It affects the whole county… You go to Texas Roadhouse — you see ball teams. I go to the beach, I go to some of the restaurants there, Grotto’s — I see teams. This just isn’t a Sussex County thing… It’s not just for the town of Georgetown. This is something that has been needed throughout the County.”

West also said the walking path on the site would encourage Sussex County’s senior population to get out of the house and stay active.

Zac Crouch of Davis, Bowen & Friedel, who also serves as a member of the foundation’s leadership committee, said the foundation has received preliminary site plan approval from the Town of Georgetown and hopes to have everything approved by the end of the year.

Bobby Horsey said the foundation hopes to begin construction in February, and see the fields in June and July. Construction is anticipated through summer and fall of next year, with the complex to officially open in the spring of 2019.

“We want this thing to be top-notch,” he said.

While people may be concerned about the Route 9/Sand Hill Road/ Airport Road intersection, Crouch said two parcels of land will be donated at the intersection to help properly align the intersection. He noted that the Delaware Department of Transportation has already applied for federal grants totaling $7.5 million to fix the intersection.

“They believe they have a much better chance at receiving that,” he said, noting that DelDOT officials said they expect to know if they will be awarded the grants by April of next year.

Councilman I.G. Burton asked what the contingency plan is in the case the grant funding does not come through, to which Crouch responded that the intersection has been on DelDOT’s priority list and would remain so.

“I think they realize this is an intersection that needs to be fixed, the sooner the better.”

Councilman Rob Arlett said he’s not only concerned about the intersection, but the capacity of Route 9 itself.

Councilman George Cole said the foundation makes a good case, as there would be an economic impact, and the facility would provide services to the residents of Sussex County, add to the quality of life and provide activities for all ages. However, he said, the County has a reputation when it comes to private/public partnerships. He suggested that, instead of the grant, perhaps the County could offer a “0-percent-interest loan.”

“And we stay out of the business of operating this thing and keep an arm’s-length distance from it… I would prefer the government side not get involved in the private side.”

County Attorney J. Everett said granting the money in the form of a loan could prove to be problematic because of potential foreclosure issues for non-reimbursement. Instead, he recommended the council consider drafting a memorandum of understanding.

Schell said he would be open to a negotiation; however, Horsey said his family would not agree to a loan.

“There’s ample argument why this project is different from other projects in the county,” he said.

The council plans to make a determination on the request at a December council meeting.