Sussex Sports Center Foundation President Joe Schell looks out over the expansive Sandhill Fields sports complex and you know his mind is spinning with ideas for future expansion. But for now, he and the foundation board are focused on building a fieldhouse, which is Phase 2 of the complex project.
With a $100,000 commitment from the Town of Georgetown, the capital campaign for the $7 million Sandhill Fieldhouse got a major boost as Phase 2 moves closer to its construction phase.
Sandhill Fields, opened in September 2020, is located on a 147-acre parcel along Sandhill Road off Route 9 in Georgetown.
Town officials will donate $25,000 a year for four years to the foundation to establish the Georgetown Great Fund with most of the money going to materials and construction of the new fieldhouse – the first in Sussex County – and a portion to purchase more sports goals and equipment.
The 30,000-square-foot fieldhouse will include a turf field for youth soccer and lacrosse, and a multi-use sports court for indoor field hockey and pickleball. The facility can also host indoor events.
Schell said financing should be in place for construction to begin late this summer. However, he said, a delay in obtaining the steel for the building could play into the timetable. He said the fieldhouse could be completed in the spring of 2023.
The current complex has 57 acres of sports fields. Schell said there is a lot of space remaining for future expansion. A 25-acre section of the parcel is dedicated as a solar field. Once that’s completed, the foundation will receive a $90,000 annual lease payment.
Schell said the financial plan includes $4.5 million from private sources, $2 million from the public and $500,000 from the business community.
On Dec. 14, Schell made a presentation to Sussex County Council requesting a second interest-free $1.5 million loan under the same terms as a previous $1.5 million loan granted by council for construction of Phase 1 of the project.
Schell said the foundation will start paying back the original loan in 2030, or the county can purchase the entire complex for $1 at that time.
He also said a presentation will be made to state officials to request $2 million.
Schell said the board is stressing the economic impact Sandhill Fields has on the local economy when tournaments are played by out-of-state teams. In 2021, the complex hosted seven tournaments, with six already on the 2022 schedule.
In 2021, tournaments included 188 teams from nine states and Washington, D.C., and 38 local teams.
In 2021, seven tournaments generated $15,000 in hotel taxes to Georgetown with a $165,000 direct economic impact on other expenditures in the town, including restaurants. Schell said the total economic impact to Georgetown and Sussex County was $673,000 in 2021, and that number is estimated to rise to $750,000 in 2022.
The current complex includes eight Bermuda grass soccer and lacrosse fields, six pickleball courts, a playground, restrooms, picnic pavilions, 3.5 miles of trails, a certified cross country trail, and parking for 750 vehicles. The complex is home to the Henlopen Soccer Club (1,300 members), La Super Liga Soccer League (800 members), Oranje Field Hockey League (200 members), Coastal Lacrosse (200 members) and First State Pickleball Club (550 members).