FREDERICA — While there are no official numbers yet as to what kind of impact the DE Turf multipurpose sports complex has had on the economy in Kent County since opening in April, the out-of-state license plates that jam the parking lots nearly every weekend tells much of the story.
Every soccer, field hockey or lacrosse sports tournament that takes place at DE Turf — a $24 million, 84-acre, 12-field sports facility that sits just southeast of Frederica off of Del. 1 — seems to add another successful chapter.
Chris Giacomucci, executive director for DE Turf, said he has been blown away by the sparkling reviews that sports travel teams, coaches, players and their families have given the facility after just more than a half-year of being in operation.
“When we put out the feasibility study before we started construction on DE Turf, all of the information we received estimated that in our first year we would have around 10 tournaments and generate about $18 million in economic impact,” Mr. Giacomucci said. “They also mentioned it would be a challenge to fill up our 2018 events calendar.
“Well, we have hosted 20 events this year and have about 25 already scheduled for 2018, when we’re planning for 30 events. So we’re very excited with how the first year has come about and we’re even more excited about next year.”
Today, the complex hosts the second of a two-day soccer tournament.
Mr. Giacomucci said DE Turf will be conducting a study at the end of this year to find out what kinds of impact it has on the Kent County economy.
A lacrosse team prepares for a game in the FLG in 3d Fall Shootout last weekend at DE Turf near Frederica. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)
Wendie Vestfall, executive director of Kent County Tourism, has been impressed at the results shown by the sports facility in its inaugural year.
“The DE Turf has certainly helped restaurants and hotels overall since it opened in April,” Ms. Vestfall said. “I’ve seen lines out the doors at restaurants, especially those close to the facilities.
“As far as the hotels, Kent County has seen a 2.6 percent increase in occupancy over 2016. However, it truly is hard to point your finger at one thing and say that’s the reason why it’s up.”
She said that DE Turf definitely is a factor with the increased number of visitors, but so are initiatives like Kent County Tourism’s $300,000 advertising campaign to draw visitors to the area and the “Thunder Over Dover” air show that took place at Dover Air Force Base in late August.
“At the end of this fiscal year, we will be doing a conversion study on visitation to Kent County,” Ms. Vestfall said. “This time next year we will have a better understanding of why visitation is up and who/what contributed to them visiting.”
Word of mouth spreads fast
Mr. Giacomucci said that when it comes to the popularity of DE Turf and its dozen synthetic turf fields — which means the games go on, even in the rain — never underestimate word of mouth.
He believes that positive comments and reviews during the facility’s first year have helped it land prestigious events such as the 10th annual US Lacrosse Nationals on Aug. 2-5 next year.
“With our 2018 calendar we’re seeing a lot more large events, which is a product of our word of mouth and marketing,” said Mr. Giacomucci. “It’s just led to larger opportunities for our venue to host.
“To be able to partner up with a national sports governing body such as US Lacrosse, I think we’re really putting a stamp that DE Turf can be considered a national sports force right now.
“People know about DE Turf now. Coaches, players and parents love the facility and love working with us. I think our reputation has already established us as the premier sports facility on the East Coast.”
Kim Rogers, director of events at US Lacrosse, said she heard good things about DE Turf.
“This is a milestone year for our signature youth event, and to be able to celebrate that at state-of-the-art DE Turf will make it all the more special for the participating teams and families,” she said.
The sports complex features a dozen turf fields sized for lacrosse, soccer and field hockey — five of which are lighted — a championship stadium with permanent seating for 750 fans, three concession stands, free public Wi-Fi and lots of on-site parking.
DE Turf has also been selected to serve as the Delaware location for the USA Field Hockey’s Futures Program next spring. Futures is the nation’s Olympic Development Program.
The Futures Program has previously been hosted by the University of Delaware and, most recently, Wesley College. Training will be led by Jill Dixon, assistant field hockey coach at Wesley.
“The Futures Program is a tremendous opportunity for youth athletes to receive quality off-season training from some of Delaware’s best coaches,” Mr. Giacomucci said. “Providing opportunities to young athletes is part of our mission statement, so that is what attracted us to team up with Wesley College on this program.”
Look back at first year
DE Turf got things rolling in a positive direction when it hosted its first tournament in April.
Mr. Giacomucci pointed out that the first major showcase for the complex — College Connections —turned out to be a huge success that left many attendees raving after it brought 84 field hockey teams, and nearly 5,000 visitors, to the facility over Easter weekend (April 15-16).
“Our first major event was an 84-team field hockey tournament with almost 5,000 visitors,” Mr. Giacomucci said. “That gave us a lot of momentum and got us going right away.
“The impact is real. We have people coming weekend in and weekend out. Parents are making investments in their children and Mom and Dad need a place to eat or a place to stay.
“We’re built for tourism, but we are community-driven.”
There are only two tournaments left for DE Turf’s inaugural year: The USFT East Coast Classic soccer tournament that is taking place this weekend and the NCAA Men’s College Cup Soccer Showcase on Dec. 8-10. The latter coincides with the NCAA championship weekend being held at the Philadelphia Union’s park in Chester, Pennsylvania.
Then the calendar flips to 2018, when a hectic schedule at DE Turf gets underway with the 3v3 Live Winter Icebreaker soccer tournament on Jan. 13.
Perhaps one of the biggest events at DE Turf in 2018 will be next summer’s opening of the U.S. 1 South Frederica Overpass that will serve the sports complex.
“We’re excited for the opening of the overpass,” Mr. Giacomucci said. “In meantime, we’ve been able to work with the Delaware Department of Transportation and they’ve really done a terrific job of helping us with traffic throughout our first year.
“But certainly, the opening of the overpass will allow for safer and easier access to and from our facility for teams and their families.”
Well worth the risk
Nobody could have been completely positive of the impact DE Turf would have on Kent County when it first opened at 4000 Bay Road.
However, Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, and several other officials from Kent County figured it would be a safe bet that building a sports complex just to the southeast of Frederica would turn out to be a successful one.
“It’s so rewarding to see the growth the complex is already spurring,” Sen. Bushweller said. “We knew that would be the case from the beginning, which made this a project my colleagues on both sides of the aisle at Legislative Hall could support.”
The building of the $24 million facility was made possible in part by a public/private partnership between Kent County Levy Court and the sports complex whereby the 85-acre county-owned land plot it sits on was rented for $1 per year for 60 years.
The construction was also supported by a $3.2 million grant from Delaware’s infrastructure fund that primarily was secured by Sen. Bushweller.
Brooks Banta, president of Kent County Levy Court, said studies done prior to the construction showed it was worth taking a chance.
“A lot of people who put in a lot of time and effort to make it happen,” Mr. Banta said. “Life is a risk. If you never take a risk you take a chance of never being successful.”
It turns out they were right, as DE Turf was honored with the Attraction of the Year award at Kent County Tourism’s Celebration of Tourism Awards in early November.
Bill Strickland, chairman of DE Turf’s board of directors, hopes that was the first of many such honors to come.
“We saw a need for a sports tourism destination in Delaware,” Mr. Strickland said. “That’s exactly what we now have. It’s an asset and economic driver not just for central Delaware, but for the entire state.”