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Competition fierce for Sports Tourism fund grants

Katie Tabeling
The Atlantic 10 conference recently announced that its women's basketball conference is moving to the Chase Fieldhouse. | PHOTO COURTESY OF BPG

BPG Sports is seeking $10 million in state funds to build an indoor track at the Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington.| PHOTO COURTESY OF BPG

DOVER The Sports Tourism Capital Investment Fund Review Panel is considering 18 applicants to receive a portion of the $12 million in the newly-created fund targeted for projects that attract out-of-state visitors to Delaware.

The fund was established to provide developers or partners involved in these venues the means to improve existing or build new facilities to boost the tourism economy. To be considered eligible, facilities must be open to the public and regularly host tournaments, championships or other events that draw out-of-state visitors. 

The Sports Tourism Capital Investment Fund was spearheaded by Gov. John Carney in the 2023 legislative session, allocating the funds in the bond bill. He’s indicated he intends to see another round, as he has set aside $6 million in this year’s budget.

The fund is managed by an eight-person review panel led by Delaware Tourism Director Jessica Welch and includes the three county tourism heads as well as the chair and vice chair of the Joint Capital Improvement Committee and Delaware Sports Sales Leader Ryan Wolfe. The board makes funding recommendations to the Division of Small Business.

At the May 6 meeting, the review panel did not make any decisions on any applicants and only offered a quick review of plans that were on the table for potential state taxpayer-backed grants.

In its inaugural round, the 18 applicants are seeking a total of $54 million in state funds, with some projects requesting as little as $100,000 while others are in the seven-digit figures.

The project seeking the most in state funding was the Chase Fieldhouse, a multi-sports facility managed by BPG Sports. The group was seeking $10 million to build an indoor track in the facility. The entire project would cost $23 million, and BPG Sports has secured $13 million in funding, according to its applicant.

“Indoor track facilities are very rare, and this would give us a very unique space and it would be attractive to host events,” Wolfe told the panel. “However, there’s not a lot of competitive sports tourism track events. However, it would give us more courts under one roof.”

Notable competition may come from the Virginia Beach Sports Center and a multi-use facility in Maryland.

Sports at the Beach, a 95-acre baseball facility and sports complex in Georgetown, also ranked as one of the top requests. That facility applied for $6.4 million to add several turf fields to its existing fields. The complex boasts of 16 fields that can host up to 100 fields. Turf fields provide all-weather play for teams, and because it does not have the uneven bumps, it helps athletes run faster.

“Not only is this a one-of-a-kind facility in Delaware, but for the I-95 corridor as well. In my travels around the country, I have run into someone who’s played here and mentioned it’s a really unique spot. This would be a good injection of capital to keep up with the market,” Wolfe said.

Sports at the Beach planned for the project to cost $8.2 million and has indicated it has a $1.8 million match.

DE Turf is also seeking $6.26 million to triple its current stadium seating from 1,000 to 3,000 seats. The project would also include a 5,500 square-foot tournament facility with club boxes as well as locker room upgrades and a facility for award ceremonies and meetings.

DE Turf notably has received Community Reinvestment Funds as well as funds from past bond bills. But DE Turf Board Chairman Bill Strickland noted that this facility was punching above its weight for years, notably drawing athletes from 32 states.

“Were we to receive the funding for the stadium improvements, that project would bring $70 million in economic impact,” he said. “That expansion is huge. It’s become a jewel in the world of youth sports. What keeps me up at night is that the Maryland Stadium Authority is looking to support a similar facility in Ocean City. That represents a real threat.”

Among the other proposals under consideration are:

  • Delaware State University for renovations to the Hornets Aquatic Center, which would be for six 25-meter lanes, offices and locker rooms. DSU is seeking $5 million for a $25 million project.
  • The Dover Civic Arena, an indoor sports complex that would include an ice rink for the Delaware Thunder Professional Hockey Club. Developers are seeking $5 million for a $12.6 million project.
  • The University of Delaware for upgrades to its softball complex to “meet the needs of players, fans and outside event organizers,” including concession stands and restrooms. While UD has received $6 million for the project, it is requesting $4 million for the $11.5 million project.
  • Midway Motion Fitness for an indoor sports complex that would include 12 indoor courts, specifically for Pickleball, and could attract tournaments. Developers are seeking $3.5 million for a $6.5 million project.
  • Nothing But Net Sports Academy for renovations for an indoor facility to turn it into a multi-sport facility. Panel members noted that this project has already received funds from the Community Reinvestment Funds in 2021 for a different concept. Developers are seeking $3 million for a $6.5 million project.
  • Sussex Academy of Arts and Science for an eight-lane track facility in Georgetown. This project is requesting $2.5 million to a total cost of $7.8 million.
  • The Hockessin Soccer Club for completion of its turf installation at Tweeds Park. This project is seeking $1.7 million to go to a total project cost of $3.1 million.
  • River Soccer Club for stadium improvements and parking capacity. Developers are seeking $596,730 for a total project cost of $685,000
  • Dover Motor Speedway for an all-purpose stage that could host concerts, movie screenings, festivals. Speedway Motor Sports is seeking $575,000 for a $850,000 project.
  • Factory Sports to upgrade its second location in Frankford, including seating for fans. Developers are seeking $476,000 for a project estimated at $948,406.
  • STATS Tournaments LLC for stadium lights for all seven of its baseball and softball fields. This project seeks $400,000 for a total cost of $800,000.
  • Sandhill Fields in Georgetown is seeking funds for LED lights, requesting $500,680.
  • New Castle County Parks for undisclosed improvement at Delcastle Park for $100,000, although the total project cost is estimated at $1.6 million.

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