CHESAPEAKE — Call it the city’s field of dreams.
Imagine thousands of fired-up sports fans flocking into a first-class stadium, cheering on their teams — and spending money on food, drinks and hotels.
That scene is bouncing around the minds of city officials who will soon pay a consulting group to study the feasibility of building a multipurpose facility. Among the potential benefits they see: It could boost revenue and shrink schoolspending on athletic programs.
A stadium here could be similar to Virginia Beach’s Sportsplex or Powhatan Field in Norfolk. Such a facility would probably cost upward of $25 million.
Love or hate the idea? Don’t get too excited or upset yet. The proposal isin its infancy, so it’ll probably be several months before any decisions are made on whether it has the potential to become reality. And that won’t happenuntil consultants gather lots of community feedback.
So there is no guarantee a stadium will be built. And even if it is, it’s several years away from being ready for games.
But city and school leaders are intrigued by the potential.
“We’re enhancing what we already have and giving them an opportunity to play in a first-class facility when needed,” said Kevin Cole, the school district’s supervisor of student services.
While nothing about this project is set in stone, it has a general vision. The stadium would provide a versatile athletic venue that serves Chesapeake school teams and the community through parks and recreation programming, according to city documents and officials.
The outdoor stadium could be built to host NCAA Division II and III,junior college and Virginia High School League championship events. It could host football, track, field hockey, soccer, cheerleading, rugby and lacrosse, city documents say. Concerts, band competitions, festivals and other events could also be held there. The city would maintain and operate it and schools would get first dibs in scheduling.
“You just can’t build facilities that are one-dimensional any longer,” said Mike Barber, city director of parks, recreation and tourism. “Everything has to be multidimensional and to be utilized in many, many different ways.”
The venue could hold up to 12,000 people and be built on a site as large as 25 acres. That’s enough space to consider expansion possibilities like aquatics or tennis facilities, additional playing or practice fields or a parking deck, city documents say.
Deputy City Manager Laura Fitzpatrick said Chesapeake is always looking for sites with expansion potential, but cautioned those ideas are hypothetical.
“This project is a stadium,” she said.
Where to build one is still up in the air, but city officials said they could consider somethingin the vicinity of Great Bridge and Deep Creek high schools, which both have stadiums in need of repairs.
“If we build the first one, we think the public would demand a second, and possibly a third one, in the long-term,” Barber said.
Officials point to models for what they envision, such as the Sportsplex and Powhatan Field. City documents also list Darling Stadium in Hampton and Todd Stadium in Newport News as examples.
Virginia Beach’s Sportsplex is a 15-acre facility not far from the intersection of Dam Neck and Princess Anne roads. Run by the Hometown Sports Management company, it has a stadium with 6,000 seats, a field hockey training center and other athletic fields, according to its website. It hosts a variety of events, including high school football playoff games.
Powhatan Field is a 2,800-seat stadium owned byNorfolk and connected toOld Dominion University. The city’shigh schools play football games there regularly.
In Chesapeake, one obvious plus officials see is the money a stadium could generate. They note that they could host VHSL state championship games, which draw large crowds from around Virginia. That translates into thousands of out-of-town visitors spending cash here.
Another consideration is the potential savings for schools. Now, Chesapeake teams that advance in the playoffs must hit the road, which costs money and can keep athletes out of classes. If they were able to stay home, those expenses would drop.
Such a facility could also ease athletic directors’ worries about bad weather. Soggy, grass fields can suffer damage during games, and repairs cost money. A multipurpose facility could use artificial turf that is better equipped to handle wear and tear after torrential rain.
“It’s a way to provide a better game-day experience for athletes and fans,” Fitzpatrick said.
The City Council has already approved $750,000 to design a master plan. A portion of that money will be spent ona consultant, who will assist with community engagement and an initial design concept, Fitzpatrick said.
The city expects to hire an adviser in early 2019. The community could start giving feedback by spring.
“Because this is a new concept and a new model in Chesapeake, it’s really hard to predict what the community will think,” Fitzpatrick said.
Staff would ultimately go to the council and School Board for a decision on whether to proceed on a full master plan design, she said.
“If this time next year we know whether or not we’re moving forward, that would be good,” she said.
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