MATTHEWS – Area leaders will gather in Matthews next week for the grand opening of the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex.
The Sportsplex, at 1505 Tank Town Road, currently includes five multi-purpose fields, a shelter area and a playground built in tribute to Patriot Day and the lives lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Phase II, which should start in the next few months, will include additional fields to a total of 12, another playground and walking trails and should open in two years.
While the Sportsplex actually is already open, county leaders and officials from Matthews will attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, Oct. 30, at 10 a.m. to celebrate the new facility and educate area residents about what the Sportsplex has to offer. And what Matthews officials and county leaders hope the facility offers is a lot of tourism dollars.
“Once there are 12 fields, we will be able to go out and target some large events that we currently can’t host (such as) some college conferences and some of their tournaments, some large national youth soccer tournaments, upper level rugby events,” said Preston Buckman, with Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation. The multi-purpose fields, and one stadium-style field that could seat around 2,700 people, will give the county “the ability to host some really great events that will bring a lot of tourism into the Charlotte, and especially Matthews, area.”
Matthews will ultimately invest $2 million into the project, which fills a vacant piece of land originally projected to house a landfill – which doesn’t exactly have the tourism attraction value as the recreational facility will.
“The town has been advocating for this probably since the late 1990s,” said Hazen Blodgett, the Matthews town manager. “The town has looked at the property as ‘how could you do some kind of recreational facility out there?’
It’s been in the town’s vision for a long time.”
Teams and groups will have to reserve time on the multi-purpose fields, which can be used for football, soccer, rugby, lacrosse and other similar sports. The fields already are booked to host a number of tournaments through the spring, including the FCCA Carolina Shootout soccer tournament Nov. 8 to 10, The Nike Blue Chip Lacrosse Camp on Nov. 23 and 24, and the NCYRU Spring Ruggerfest rugby tournament on March 8 and 9, 2014.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for local groups to play. Teams can reserve a field online through the county’s website, www.charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/ParkandRec. People do not have to reserve time to use the playground at the facility, and the future playground and walking trails also will be open to the public.
“I think one of the things we heard early on (as a need) was youth recreation and youth travel recreation is in many ways a recession-proof activity,” Blodgett said. “Parents will travel and pay for their kids to play sports. From an economic development standpoint, it (means) people staying at our hotels, people eating at our restaurants. When these people spend their money in town eating, that money comes directly back to the town…”
The county owns and operates the facility, but has worked closely with the town as the first phase was under construction and will continue to do so as the second phase gets under way. The facility could eventually have a second entrance, off Brigman Road, that would tie into the Sportsplex near U.S. 74. Another, larger grand opening will be held once Phase II is complete.
“We’re really happy with how the fields have worked out,” Buckman said. “Everybody is going to love using the fields once they get out there. It’s a pretty impressive facility.”
The new fields also will serve a greater purpose across the county, Buckman said. Since these fields are synthetic turf, and many other county fields are natural grass, the county will be able to shift some tournaments and practices to the Sportsplex to give the natural grass fields a rest part of the year, helping further preserve them. And funds raised by the logging contract for land that must be cleared for new fields will benefit the county’s natural preserve fund, Buckman said.