October 10, 2006
By SHAWN HOPKINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
The Harvest Foundation on Monday unveiled details of its plan to provide $20 million to construct a fieldhouse and arena in Martinsville and a soccer complex in Henry County, an announcement officials said will be remembered in the future as a key moment in the city and county's economic growth.
Harvest Foundation President Marshall Stowe made the official announcement Monday evening before a crowded house at the Walker Fine Arts Center auditorium at Patrick Henry Community College.
Leon Younger, president of PROS Consulting of Indianapolis, Ind., who worked on the project for the foundation, outlined plans for the facilities.
The $16 million fieldhouse and arena will be an 80,000-square-foot facility on land owned by the city at the corner of Fayette and Market streets. Highlights will include a 35,000-square-foot fieldhouse that can support basketball courts, volleyball courts and indoor soccer and can be used for trade shows and exhibits.
It will also include a 30,000-square-foot multi-purpose arena that can accommodate concerts and basketball competitions, and a 7,500-square-foot fitness space with a 1/8 mile elevated walking track.
It will have 150 parking spaces, he said, and will cooperate with city officials for large events when more parking is needed.
Overall, Younger said, the facility will "change the face of recreation in the community for a very long time." The only comparable facilities are in the Dallas and Chicago areas, he added.
The $4 million soccer complex will be located on land recently purchased by the county near the U.S. 220/U.S. 58 bypass and Virginia 650. It will have eight high school level soccer fields that can be converted into 15 youth soccer fields.
It will have other amenities such as irrigation, bleachers and two lighted championship fields to make it a "world class facility," Younger said.
The soccer complex design work is scheduled to start in October of this year, with construction starting in March 2007 and an estimated opening in March 2008, Stowe said.
Design work on the fieldhouse and arena complex could begin by January 2007, with construction beginning in October 2007 and an estimated opening in October 2009.
The facilities will be overseen by a 10-person authority selected by the city, county and Harvest Foundation. Younger said the authority will manage all aspects of the facility and will be empowered to change things like rate structures to ensure the facility is self-supporting based on fees for use.
Officials said any future debt incurred by the facilities will be the debt of the authority, not the city and county.
Stowe forecasted that nothing less than the "rebirth" of a community with a vision for its future and control of its destiny would grow out of the project. It will improve the quality of life and attractiveness of the community and bring in jobs and economic development dollars by being a regional center for sporting events and entertainment, he added.
He said it is a project that shows "our community recognizes the benefits of working together and leveraging opportunities" because it will be managed by a joint Martinsville/Henry County parks authority.
City and county officials, such as supervisors' Chairman H.G. Vaughn, said the project is something neither the county nor city could have done without the help of The Harvest Foundation. Harvest's gift means the complexes will be more likely to be profitable because they will not carry initial debt, Vaughn said, calling it an example of what can happen when the public and private sector work together for the common good.
Stowe said Monday's announcement was the result of three years of planning that started with a simple suggestion for a baseball diamond from a resident. Harvest board member Bob Davis agreed to head a committee to pursue the idea.
He said a committee formed to study local recreation needs had a goal of proposing self-supporting facilities that would meet local recreation needs, improving quality of life and making the area more attractive to young people and outsiders and drive economic development by bringing people from around the region to tournaments and events.
Younger said the committee recognized the community has a number of recreation needs and considered nine options, but the current plan fit the most pressing needs.
The committee used a feasibility study, surveys, focus groups and other forms of public input to arrive at its decision, Younger and Stowe said.
Younger said that what "seemed to make the most sense" to the committee was the fieldhouse and arena in Martinsville and the outdoor soccer complex in Henry County.
Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. President-CEO Mark Heath said the announcement is a "red letter" day, comparable to the announcement of a major new industry locating here.
"Today is an economic development announcement we should be celebrating," he said.
He said the facilities will be a "catalyst" for economic development. It could provide more than $170,120,000 in total economic impact over a 20-year period, he said.
It will employ 72 full- and part-time employees. The construction phase alone will provide 682 regional jobs, he said.
Having the facilities also will improve the quality of life in the area, Heath said, which is valuable in attracting businesses to locate here, attracting retirees and negating the negative image outsiders have of Martinsville and Henry County.
It will also give young people a reason to stay by negating the complaint "there's nothing to do," Heath said.
And it will become a regional destination for families traveling to youth soccer, basketball and other games.
Those families will spend money in this area, he said, and if they come away with a positive image of the area because of the complex they will be more likely to locate here.
Heath said that even though the largest portion of the project is in Martinsville, what is good for one is good for the other.
"We all suffer together," he said, but if "Henry County succeeds, Martinsville will succeed," and the reverse is also true.
Officials also said the youth of the community will benefit from the opportunities presented by the center.
Stowe introduced a group of former Martinsville Middle School students who as middle-schoolers had brought their need for a new gym to the foundation. When they learned of early plans to create a regional sports complex, they held a bake sale and raised $150 to support it, he said.
The event was also staffed by students from local high schools including Bassett and Magna Vista high schools and Martinsville High Schools, who helped pass out programs and gave out free soccer and basketballs.
"You make us proud," Stowe said.
The announcement included a "virtual tour," of the proposed facilities, a mostly computer generated flythrough of the fieldhouse and proposed arena and soccer field. The tour generated enthusiastic applause, especially when the arena was shown.
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