Stalled Sports Complex a Reminder of Civic Center - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Stalled Sports Complex a Reminder of Civic Center

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FREDERICA, Del. (WBOC) - A fight over road construction has the Kent County Regional Sports Complex, a project that once appeared to be in the fast lane to completion, now sitting at a standstill. And every day it's stuck in neutral the sports complex begins to look more and more like it will suffer the same fate as another dream for some in central Delaware, the Delaware Civic Center.

After decades of discussion, a plan for this multipurpose arena and convention space nearly became a reality in the 2000s. The key word is "nearly."

"With the Delaware Civic Center, there was a lot of community support," said Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce. "But there wasn't a lot of buy-in on behalf of legislators and the entire state government."

"The fact that the civic center was going to require some on-going subsidy from somebody - the city, the county, the state, a combination thereof - was an underlying issue," said Rep. Darryl Scott, D-Dover.

By 2011 things had fallen apart to the point that the civic center was not to be. Diogo worries that could happen to the sports complex, too.
The multi-million-dollar sports tourism project to put more than a dozen soccer, field hockey, lacrosse fields in one spot along DE 1 in Frederica has been under discussion since 2009.

"The majority of the people involved are both frustrated and very disappointed - that we've come so far with a project only to have the door closed on us," she said.

Bill Strickland, with the Greater Kent Committee, says the Frederica site was chosen because DelDOT was putting an overpass over DE 1 there. Last fall DelDOT re-examined its priorities, and that project plummeted from a 2014 to a 2017 planned start date.

"It does not happen without an overpass," Strickland said. "We've looked at alternative entrances and exits. Nothing works. Nothing can safely get visitors in and out of that complex without an overpass."

"It has absolutely put the sports complex in a very vulnerable position. It has basically shut the project down," said Diogo.

DelDOT officials disagree the overpass is a necessity for the sports complex. And the department has shown little interest in changing the timeline for the overpass. And as it sits unstarted, the sports complex begins to look like the civic center. It's a comparison Strickland acknowledges but hopes only goes so far.

"The only similarity between the two is that there was an impasse. The projects themselves are very much dissimilar," he said. "This project has enjoyed tremendous support. I didn't seem that same kind of almost universal support for the civic center project."

"I think the sports complex, because of the structure of the deal between the public and private partner, makes it a more feasible project," Rep. Scott said. "And I think there's great demand for its use."

There's demand right now. But people in other parts of the Mid-Atlantic are looking at similar projects, meaning at some point an unstarted complex in Kent County loses its economic viability. It's unclear when that point might be reached.

Despite the complex project's overall differences from the civic center project, the overpass impasse remains. And no resolution could lead to the stories of both these projects ending the same way.

Recently a grassroots effort has popped up to help unstick the stuck complex. Project leaders hope it makes a difference in Kent County.
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