The $28 million facility, for which a groundbreaking ceremony took place Tuesday, will cover 145,000 square feet and feature 10 regulation-sized basketball courts, or 20 regulation-sized volleyball courts, a championship arena with retractable seating for fans, as well as a grand lobby, mezzanine level and supportive food and beverage.
Construction will begin “in earnest” in August, with a grand-opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony planned in December 2019.
The center will have the ability to host basketball and volleyball tournaments, as well as mat games and various community events.
It also will feature an indoor walking track, which will be free and open to the public for community use.
“It’s a combination of family fun and sports, and I’m stealing that from Sports Force, but it really does epitomize that and that’s why they (Sports Force) were a great first partner,” said Duff Milkie, executive vice president of Cedar Fair, adding that sports tourism is the way of the future.
“If you look at what the patterns are, what people are doing, you have a lot of kids involved in travel sports, which pinches in on family time a little bit. So we looked at that and said, ‘Isn’t there an opportunity here to marry a vacation with playing the sports — a play-cation?’”
That’s exactly what officials hope to create with the sports center.
“Anything you can think of, you can do it in there. We’re going to try and deepen that experience and as we saw with the outdoor facility, there’s lots of opportunities,” Milkie said. “It’s 145,000 square feet, then we’re also building a 28,000-square-foot fitness facility, or one that’s suitable for fitness, in order to give the community a running start to get a fitness center.”
The latter building will be ready to be converted into a top-of-the-line fitness center, with the intention of the local YMCA purchasing the building once it raises the funds, he said.
About $23 million of the funding came from Erie County via a bond supported by bed tax, which Milkie said was a good fit because the facility will generate more tourism funds itself.
Cedar Fair provided the other $5 million.
The facility will profit more than just Erie County, though. Milkie said surrounding areas, such as Norwalk, can expect to reap the benefits as well.
“I think what it does is that it invites people to come to our area for another reason and I think when people come to our area, they tend to come back,” he said.
“The statistic is that 89 percent people that come into Erie County or the Lake Erie Shores and Islands region expect to return. When you generate that volume of people in area, they tend to discover other things — communities like Norwalk and Fremont and Bellevue and all these surrounding communities that have so much to offer. ... Norwalk is part of our area as well and it gives it the opportunity to enjoy the notoriety that it might not otherwise enjoy.”
Larry Fletcher, president of Lake Erie Shores and Islands, agreed, adding once visitors come for a day or two, maybe for one of the center’s tournaments, “they’ll quickly find they’re going to need to come back,” something Fletcher said he expects to generate a lot of money for the community and surrounding areas.
He added that the facility will bring something the area hasn’t seen before, rather than a repeat of what’s already offered.
“Having been a member of Ernthausen Center in Norwalk at one time, there are facilities in the area that offer basketball and volleyball courts, but nothing anywhere close to this scale that this will be, in terms of the number of courts and the quality of them,” he said.
“So this is going to be a place that people from far outside the region will come, but we also know it’s something that will benefit people from the surrounding areas like Norwalk.”