Sandhill Fields General Manager Brad Leinbach summed up the impact the new 90-acre sports venue in Georgetown will have on Sussex County’s economy with a classic, often-quoted movie line.
“The old adage is holding true: Build it and they will come,” he said. “We built it and they’re coming. They’re calling and emailing. And they want to start playing as soon as this fall.”
A grand-opening celebration was held Sept. 2. Sussex County’s latest sports complex features eight regulation-size Bermuda grass fields for soccer, field hockey and lacrosse, plus six pickleball courts, a 3.1-mile cross country course, 3.5 miles of walking trails and other amenities just inside Georgetown municipal limits off Sand Hill Road.
Sandhill Fields will be home to Henlopen Soccer Club, Saltwater Lacrosse, La Super Liga Hispanic soccer league, and Oranje field hockey club. The venue plans to host 10 to 15 tournaments annually from mid-March to mid-December.
“We have a place to create a lot of family memories,” said Georgetown Mayor Bill West. “We’ve got a great opportunity for people to come together, and grandparents can even show up now. Making family memories is what it’s all about.”
Kathleen Schell understands that. During the ceremony, she not-so-fondly reminisced about spending countless hours in her car traveling to lacrosse tournaments all over the East Coast.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am as a mom to look around and see these fields, and to know that our kids are going to spend more time playing their sports instead of traveling to play their sports,” she said.
“Who would’ve thought back in 2016 that the safest place that all of us could be is outdoors?” she said. “I guess for the foreseeable future until we feel better about everything that’s going on in the world, we have this amenity, this benefit, this feature right here in the middle of Sussex County.”
Joe Schell, chair of the board of trustees for the Sussex Sports Center Foundation, said the $6.5 million project was a fine example of a public-private partnership. Before raising any money for the project, he approached Sussex County Council to ask for an investment for the county’s youth.
The county provided a $1.5 million loan to the foundation to kick-start the fundraising effort.
“Compromise and talking back and forth, and understanding one another is so important for us to move forward,” Schell said. “This would still be a soybean field if we hadn’t had that kind of cooperation.”
Schell said more than 50 businesses, organizations and individuals followed with an additional $5 million in donations. Nine businesses, he said, have pledged to donate $50,000 over the next five years. Those include Harry Caswell Plumbing, Beebe Healthcare, David G. Horsey and Sons, The Dental Group, Atlantic Sands Hotel, McGee Motors, Meoli Companies, Fulton Bank and Schell Brothers. Sandhill Fields also received financial support from several charitable foundations such as the Longwood Foundation, Welfare Foundation and Schell Family Foundation.
“This is an integrated effort to have something in the middle of the county where everybody will come out and enjoy it,” Schell said.
Construction began in July 2018 and was completed earlier this week.
The economic impact is also something to look forward to, Schell said. A two-day tournament with 80 teams means those players, coaches and parents need a hotel, places to eat, entertainment and other activities. A single tournament of that size is expected to have a $1 million economic impact alone, Schell said.
With Sports at the Beach just a few miles away and DE Turf nearby in Milford, Schell said, it will be important to work cooperatively rather than competitively with each venue. It also provides an opportunity for an entrepreneur to build a new hotel, he said.
Sandhill Fields will officially open to the public Wednesday, Sept. 9. The public is invited to visit the new complex from 5:30 to 7 p.m., Sept. 9. Guests are required to follow all COVID-19 guidelines, including wearing masks and social distancing. In compliance with outdoor event restrictions due to COVID-19, only 100 vehicles will be permitted to enter the complex for the grand opening event.
To learn more about Sandhill Fields, go to www.sandhillfields.org.