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Planned Springfield sports center would serve local, regional needs

Feb. 23—The proposed $17 million Champion City Sports & Wellness Center in Springfield would offer local residents health and recreation options during the week and draw sports tourism on weekends half the year, according to one of its chief supporters.

The facility would be roughly 100,000 square feet with room for eight basketball courts, 16 volleyball courts or 24 pickleball courts. It also would have a two-lane fitness track.

Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Greater Springfield Partnership, said it would serve thousands of sports teams with events 26 weekends of the year. On weekdays, it would function as a community wellness center.

That translates to 70 percent of the time being used by locals and 30 percent by sports tourism, McDorman said.

"You will have a lot of opportunities for people to participate in this facility," he said.

While the proposal received a boost this month with its inclusion on a regional economic development group's priority funding list, the project has been in the works for several years.

McDorman said community leaders in December of 2015 began asking what the next big project was that would move Springfield forward. Projects completed roughly a decade earlier included the Splash Zone, The Chiller ice rink, Carleton Davidson Stadium for baseball.

He said groups studied the sports center idea for almost two years, focusing on local and regional sports tourism related to basketball and volleyball.

"The study came back very positive, a 2-to-1 payback for the community," McDorman said, citing gains in sales and lodging taxes, dining and more. "It's a great opportunity for the community."

Earlier in the process, McDorman said estimates called for $170 a square foot to build the sports center.

"Today, that has almost doubled," he said.

That led supporters to study different structure types and to now favor an air-supported building, or dome, with limited bricks and mortar, McDorman said.

"That would save us almost half the cost," he said.

>> $17M Springfield sports center among area projects seeking funds

To understand what an an air-supported structure is, think of the Cincinnati Bengals indoor practice facility that opened about two years ago. The fabric roof is visible from Interstates 75 and 71 to motorists who are crossing the Ohio River.

The Springfield facility would have an 8,000 square foot brick and mortar welcome center that would house concessions, restroom facilities and an entry to the dome portion via an air-lock entrance.

The dome would be made of material with a 20-year warranty.

Supporters hoped the Champion City Sports & Wellness Center would receive funding from the state capital budget and from the House's $350 million portion of surplus funds.

State Rep. Bernie Willis, R-Springfield, was critical of Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, and his quick passage of the surplus funds measure, which did not allocate any money for the sports center. Willis said Stephens played favorites.

Willis said he did not get recognized to speak on the House floor and said the 74th District received on $375,000 for an unrelated project.

The numbers passed in the House could change. The Senate has another $350 million of the state's $700 million pool of surplus funds. The Senate, which likely won't take up the bill until April.

"We were very disappointed with the way the House came out with their version of the projects they were going to support," McDorman said.

He said state funds "are critical to our success in moving this project forward."

Financing is one hurdle, but location is another.

"The challenge is where do you put it? We don't have a site for it yet," McDorman said.

Supporters would like it to be downtown, but it doesn't have to be, he said. It must, however, be in a place that people can easily access it, he said.

The Clark County Convention Facilities Authority will own and operate the sports center with a third-party vendor to manage it.

Other financial support is expected to come from the city of Springfield, various local foundations and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is part of the Greater Springfield Partnership.

"This facility will offer us a great opportunity to be able to work with local sports programs" that have trouble finding court time, McDorman said.