It’s a tale of two sports complexes designed for the booming market in youth sports. One seems destined for success, the other not so much.
Youth sports facilities have become big business, as more and more kids are playing on touring teams that travel all over the country to play, well, whatever – basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, field hockey, lacrosse, you name it.
Traveling teams have been around for a while now, as more and more kids focus on one sport and play it year-round, as opposed to the old days (whether they were good or not is up to you) when kids played different team sports depending on the time of the year – autumn was for football, winter was for basketball and summer was for baseball. They were almost exclusively for boys, of course, and sports like field hockey and lacrosse and ice hockey and even soccer were pretty much non-existent.
Anyhow, not only are more and more kids focusing on one sport today, adults are focusing on how much money those travel sports teams can pump into the local economy. Traveling teams stay in hotels and eat at restaurants and fill their cars with gasoline and the trickle-down effect from all of that spending has local merchants (and tax collectors) seeing dollar signs. And it’s certainly no surprise that Delaware, which for decades has earned the reputation as the Leech State because of things like corporate taxes and greedy highway toll rates, has tried to cash in – with mixed results.
First, a success story: The DE Turf Sports Complex outside of Felton is finally up and running and the hard work by a lot of people has paid off. The complex, which is being run by the non-profit Delaware Sports Commission, cost $24 million and includes 10 artificial turf fields and two real grass fields and can be used by multiple teams and multiple sports.
There were already two well-run, successful sports complexes in Sussex County – the Sports at the Beach in Georgetown, which is also run by the Delaware Sports Commission, and the Pyle Center Softball Complex near Roxanna, which has held big-time events in the past, including the Senior League Softball World Series. Now there is a third, and the whole purpose of the new complex is to attract people (and their money) to some place in lower Delaware other than the beach towns and Dover Downs. And so far, so good.
Now, the not-success story: The Delaware Sports Complex outside of Middletown recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing assets and liabilities of $1-$10 million. The proposed $13 million project, which started construction in 2015, is supposed to be similar to the one near Felton, with first-class facilities that would attract teams from different sports and from all over the East Coast and beyond.
And with the continued growth of the Middletown area, as well as the eventual linking of Route 301 to Route 1 (and, by extension, Interstate 95), it seems like an ideal location.
But the Delaware Sports Complex LLC owes $2.2 million to more than a dozen creditors, even though it pays next to nothing for the valuable property on which it sits – the ownership group pays the Town of Middletown $1 a year to lease the land. With the coming of a completed Route 301, that land will be worth millions at some point, but Middletown realized that the benefits to local businesses and tax coffers made it worthwhile to practically give away that land, and it’s hard to argue with their logic. It seemed like a win-win at the time – the ever-growing town would attract out-of-state dollars and the land would be used for something relatively green instead of another shopping mall or townhouse complex.
Whether or not the Delaware Sports Complex LLC regroups and reorganizes or not – its Facebook page is even blank – remains to be seen. The Town of Middletown seems determined to follow through on the project regardless, and we can only hope their vision is realized and their hard work pays off.
No matter what happens, it’s clear that youth sports have become big business in the 21st century, and it seems like everybody wants to cash in.