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The Virginian — Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)


CHESAPEAKE — The company behind the Virginia Beach Field House wants to build something similar in Chesapeake, and the city is all ears.

Eastern Sports Management of Fredericksburg has pitched a 120,000-square-foot indoor recreation facility for a roughly 7-acre site in Western Branch. The company would design, develop and finance the project, which - according to the proposal - would eventually cost the city at least $11 million.

Discussions began a year ago, and advocates have said the project will spur economic development in the area.

"What you need in Western Branch is something that brings people to Western Branch," said Councilman Roland Davis, an early supporter. It starts by finding a project that will generate excitement, he added.

Eastern Sports' president, John Wack, was behind the $15.7 million project that led to the opening of the 175,000-square-foot Virginia Beach Field House in 2010. It has more than 80 full- and part-time employees, according to proposal documents, and besides sports has hosted a bridal expo, a table tennis tournament and political rallies.

Western Branch is far enough from the Beach facility to reduce overlap, the documents said. The project is being proposed for a site that Jolliff Landing developers offered to the city for free as part of a rezoning approval early this year.

Beach-based Kotarides Developers intends to build more than 300 single-family homes, office space, walking trails and multiuse paths on about 168 acres northwest of Jolliff Road and Portsmouth Boulevard, near the Suffolk border. The property for the sports complex would be given to the city before the development's first certificate of occupancy is issued.

Once complete, the city or Economic Development Authority would purchase the facility from the company for $11 million. A subsidiary, ESM Chesapeake LLC, would lease and operate the complex, paying rent to the city or authority, documents said.

The company estimates the complex will generate $500,000 in food and beverage tax revenue by its third year and host 35 to 45 events annually. It would have 12 full-time and 100 part-time employees, the proposal said, mostly Chesapeake hires. It projects 3,000 members will sign up to use the fitness area.

The complex would be a mix of hard courts and turf that can be used for adult and youth sports. It could accommodate basketball, volleyball, field hockey and soccer, among others.

The front would be devoted to fitness and training, with areas for cardio, weights and group exercise, as well as spinning rooms, lockers and showers. Public memberships would be available, the documents said.

The layout includes rooms for classes, parties, day care and day camp, as well as a kitchen and lounge.

It could be designed with emergency preparedness in mind, but upgrades for shelter needs would likely increase the cost by $500,000, the documents said. Beach officials authorized about $400,000 to make its field house a hurricane shelter, according to Pilot archives, making sure the building's glass and doors could withstand a Category 2 hurricane.

It would cost the city $10,000 a day if the company manages and maintains the facility during an emergency.

Eastern Sports Management submitted the proposal under a 2002 state law that allows private groups to make unsolicited bids to build public buildings.

In a recent interview, City Manager James Baker said a 90-day window has been opened to solicit alternative proposals. City staffers will evaluate any that come in and make their recommendations to the council, whose vote is required to move forward.

"This is precisely the kind of interest in sports activity in Western Branch that I have encouraged," Mayor Alan Krasnoff said Monday.

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June 18, 2017


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