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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
September 11, 2013 Wednesday
METRO; Pg. B-01
|Henrico ponders athletic complex;
New fields would boost sports tourism, county officials say
Henrico County officials are studying the possibility of adding an athletic field complex on a nearly 100-acre, county-owned parcel on Greenwood Road in central Henrico, a development that officials believe would alleviate a shortage of playing fields and boost sports tourism.
"To stay competitive in this arena and to provide the services that our citizens are demanding from the standpoint of recreational play, there's a field issue," Henrico Recreation & Parks Director Neil Luther said Tuesday during a briefing for the Board of Supervisors.
The complex could be used for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, football and any other field sport not played on a baseball diamond, Luther said. The land in question was purchased by the county for use as a park but hasn't been developed.
Henrico staff members have developed a 16-field layout that includes a stadium and parking, Luther said, but they plan to seek professional help to further develop the plans.
The county has negotiated a contract with CHA Sports, a national design firm that specializes in athletic complexes, to get a better idea of the project's viability and cost.
The $132,000 contract is expected to go to the board for approval at an upcoming meeting.
Luther said the result will be used as a "starting point" to begin discussions of a development scenario. He pointed to similar facilities such as the Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County and the Spotsylvania SportsPlex near Fredericksburg.
The Maryland example, a 162-acre site with 24 fields, was built as a public-private partnership involving about $8 million in public money and $17.1 million from the Maryland Soccer Foundation. In Spotsylvania, Luther said, a deed of gift was prepared that allowed two soccer organizations to operate the fields independently while making them available for local purposes when not in use.
Henrico County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said the project could be a public-private partnership and is not likely to be funded with debt financing.
"We will have to do things differently," Vithoulkas said. "We are looking for partners that can join in a project like this, like others have done throughout the East Coast."
Before the presentation, Henrico officials noted that representatives from the Richmond Strikers soccer club were present at the briefing.
Henrico has focused heavily on sports tourism this year as a means of generating tax revenue from hotel stays and restaurant visits. The county launched a website and mobile app in February designed to appeal to families involved in tournaments held in Henrico.
In June and July, there were 20 youth sports tournaments in Henrico involving 354 teams, 248 of which came from outside the region, according to the presentation. The events, which drew 5,310 participants and 16,295 spectators, had a total economic impact of more than $10.6 million.
"The return on investment from this area is clearly there," Vithoulkas said.
The supervisors were largely supportive of the effort.
Varina District Supervisor Tyrone E. Nelson said the sports tourism trend isn't likely to change given the push for healthy living, but he asked that officials consider the eastern part of the county for similar projects down the road.
"We have the land," he said. "The spending for hotels, the spending for restaurants makes for a stronger community."
"I hope this all comes to be," said board Chairman David A. Kaechele of the Three Chopt District.
The board also heard a proposal for an across-the-board ban on alcohol at the Recreation & Parks Department's facilities and centers, many of which are available to rent as venues for weddings, graduation parties and other events.
Currently, alcohol is allowed at nine of the county's 14 facilities and centers with a $125 security deposit and an ABC license. At the others, it's prohibited entirely.
Officials said the current policy doesn't bar renters from obtaining an ABC license for youth-oriented events. Off-duty police officers are required for youth events, but they are prohibited from entering the portion of the venue that's subject to the ABC license. Those rules essentially create an environment of self-regulation when alcohol is allowed at county facilities, officials said.
The plan would offer a more consistent policy and did not come about as the result of any particular incident or concern, officials said. But the change could affect the county's ability to rent out the facilities.
Out of 870 rental agreements in fiscal year 2013, officials said, 230 included the additional steps to include alcohol, or about 26 percent.
The board is expected to take up a resolution on the alcohol ban soon, possibly at its next meeting.
Illustration: Photo, diagram
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September 12, 2013