Sports complex kickoff slated

August 21, 2009

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Sunday’s official grand opening of the $8.7 million Smith River Sports Complex is the end of its building phase and the beginning of its role as an economic development engine.

The free event will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the complex off Irisburg Road (Virginia 650) on Sportsplex Way.

It also represents a celebration for the Harvest Foundation, which paid to build the facility, according to Allyson Rothrock, executive director of Harvest.

Sunday “is our last opportunity to officially hand over the keys” to the Southern Virginia Recreation Facilities Authority (SVRFA) board, which will manage the complex, Rothrock said. After that, the foundation’s involvement “will still obviously be funding, but we won’t be out there” as often as when overseeing the construction of the project.

The job of sparking economic development through the complex now will fall on its board and staff, who will work to bring out-of-town and travel teams here for tournaments, along with players and spectators from other areas.

When the project was announced in the fall of 2006, the cost to develop the sports complex on 91 acres near the U.S. 58 Bypass/Virginia 650 was estimated at $4.5 to $5 million.

Construction costs increased after Rothrock; Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County EDC and a sports authority board member; Bob Davis, chairman of the authority board; and Dennis Toney, executive director of the authority, toured 20 “top quality” complexes around the country, Rothrock said.

“We saw so many things we wanted” to incorporate into the sports complex here to make it the best it could be, she said. Those recommendations were presented to the Harvest board and approved.

The final cost was $8.7 million. That covered all design, engineering, construction and other costs except the land. Henry County donated the 91 acres for the project.

Groundbreaking was held in the spring of 2008, and the complex opened to the public on July 1.

Rothrock said she is pleased that the community has embraced the facility, which includes five soccer fields and one practice field; an electronic scoreboard; fixed seating for 250 spectators; a pavilion with concessions, restrooms, office and meeting space; two picnic pavilions; a playground; a canoe launch; and walking trails that lead to the Smith River.

“I don’t think anybody else can compete with what we have,” Rothrock said.

Manchester Meadows, a soccer complex in Rock Hill, S.C., may come the closest, she said. However, it lacks river access points and walking trails. It does not have room to expand, “and I don’t know if their focus is as broad as ours,” Rothrock said.

The sports authority board hopes the complex will attract not only soccer, but also sporting events such as lacrosse, certain types of football and other activities.

When the sports complex first was announced, it was in conjunction with a $16 million, 80,000-square-foot fieldhouse envisioned in uptown Martinsville. That project has been delayed.

The fieldhouse project “absolutely has not been ruled out,” Rothrock said Wednesday.

She explained that “cluster groups” of area residents have been meeting and collecting data on options for uptown. They are focusing on a half dozen topics — such as recreation, housing, arts and culture — and their findings will be reviewed and future projects, such as the fieldhouse, will be determined based on “what makes the most sense” and “what is the best investment,” Rothrock said.

The sports authority board recently held a planning retreat to develop a strategic plan that includes fundraising, communications and other requirements requested by Rothrock before Harvest approves additional funding over the $1 million it previously committed for the complex’s operating expenses.

The retreat “was a giant step forward” and helped the authority board outline policy measures needed to ensure future success and become self-sustainable, Rothrock said.

The authority board approved a six-month budget on Aug. 6, with revenues of $362,064 and expenses totaling $344,597.

According to goals outlined during the retreat, the authority hopes to become at least 50 percent self-sustaining within two years. That will be accomplished through fundraising efforts, sponsorships and revenue from other sources such as concessions and usage fees, according to information from board meetings.

Rothrock said pursuing a combination of public and private fundraising efforts may be necessary for the complex’s success, especially in the first few years of operation.

However, “I think that’s really yet to be determined” because the strategic plan has not yet been completed or presented, she said.

Rothrock also said she cannot predict when the complex may become self-sustaining. “You really kind of have to walk before you run,” she said.

She plans to meet with the authority board after the strategic plan is complete, Rothrock said, speculating that meeting might take place in October.


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