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Work underway for long-awaited Kent Co. Sports Complex

The Kent County Regional Sports Complex is finally coming off the drawing board and becoming a reality.

Shovels are moving dirt along Route 1 in Frederica, beginning work on the complex, which will operate under the name DE Turf.

Since 2009, officials have envisioned the complex serving as an economic driver by hosting regional youth soccer, lacrosse and other sporting events and tournaments, but funding issues and battles over DelDOT’s plans improve access to Rt. 1 around the facility delayed and nearly derailed it.

Now, 12 fields - 10 of them turf and four of them lighted - are being built at the $24 million, 84 acre facility. A field hockey only field is planned in the future. 

State Sen. Brian Bushweller (D-Dover/Central Kent) worked to obtain $3.2 million in state money for the project and helped resolve the issues with DelDOT.  He says he wasn’t sure this day would ever come, and now that it has he appreciates all the work that made it happen.

It’s satisfaction and relief because it was a long hard fight to get to this point," said Bushweller. "But the beauty of it is that now that we’re here, I think virtually everybody understand why we fought so hard to get this.

A feasibility study estimates DE Turf could add be worth up to $18 million annually to the state economy after 10 years.  Another study by the University of Delaware study suggests it could employ up to 2,000 people during camp and tournament season – the equivalent of 210 full-time jobs.

The Greater Kent Committee’s Bill Strickland, who chairs the Regional Complex’s board, says he believes the additional time it took to make the project happen makes it more likely it will succeed.

As I look at the obstacles we confronted, candidly, each of those obstacles made us better because they cause us to take a timeout and to reshape our business plan or the complex and we wound up on the other side of every challenge in a better place," said Strickland.

The complex, which is expected to be ready by next spring, will face competition – including in state from a complex currently under construction in Middletown.  But DE Turf executive director Rob Smith says he believes its combination of turf and lighted fields - along with its relatively small footprint will give it an edge.

“We are a complex that is condensed. We are weather resistant. And we have a tremendous amount of flexibility in the events we can run,” said Smith.

Smith says he is already working to book events for next summer and has many inquiries about the facility.  He's like to have 12-15 events at DE Turf in that first shortened year of operation in 2017, then build toward 24 in year two and 25-32 in year three when he expects DE Turf will be fully operational.

But he says its crucial to make a strong first impression with those initial events next year.

"It's mission critical that we not only deliver on some experiences, but we also manage and operate the tournaments efficiently," said Smith.

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
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