Prince William’s Co. proposed $140M sports complex facing an uncertain future

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Prince William County is considering developing an over $100 million indoor athletics facility. (Courtesy MEB)

The proposal for an over $100 million indoor athletics facility in Prince William County faces a dicey future as a majority of elected officials appear unable to coalesce around it.

The Board of County Supervisors has given staff permission to finalize purchase of a $15 million Woodbridge property that is currently under contract by the county. The primary proposal for the property has been a national destination for sporting and other types of events, as well as a local hub for use by athletic organizations.

But it’s not clear the board has the support necessary for approval of the sportsplex as concerns abound with the project’s $140 million price tag. Board Chair Deshundra Jefferson, the lone Democrat skeptical of the proposal and likely swing vote, said during a Tuesday board meeting that she won’t be supporting the project in its current form. Republicans have similarly balked at the plan.

“Despite the projections and everything we gave, I still have my doubts,” Jefferson said. “I mean, how many of these projects really earn money? And we’re making a significant public investment — people’s tax dollars … I understand and respect the families who want to see this in our county, but I’m not behind this. This project in its current iteration does not have my vote.”

The board’s Democratic majority has largely been supportive of advancing the sportsplex. They say it would be a boon for the growing community and provide youth athletes a state-of-the-art facility close to home for them to train and compete in. They also touted it as a potential driver of economic activity for the surrounding area.

But without support from Jefferson and Republicans, Democrats will be unable to secure the majority needed to approve the plan.

Still, Jefferson ultimately joined members of her party in backing the land purchase, as the site could still be used by the county for other purposes. Jefferson said last week she is “not at liberty” to disclose other potential uses for the property that are in talks among county officials.

Coles Supervisor Yesli Vega, Gainesville Supervisor Bob Weir and Brentsville Supervisor Tom Gordy, all Republicans, opposed the land purchase.

The multi-use facility, which could be the largest of its kind in the Washington region, is proposed for 13505 Telegraph Road along the Interstate 95 corridor, which officials say is ideal to attract clientele for large events from across the East Coast. The facility would feature a hydraulic running track and hard-surface courts used for basketball, pickleball and space for conventions or other events.

Projections from consultants retained by the county show that, if the facility is approved, it will become profitable by its third year in use, netting the county more than $400,000 in revenue that’s expected to marginally grow in subsequent years. But that projection doesn’t account for the debt servicing fees the county would be on the line for, and the facility would operate in the red at the expense of taxpayers for its first two years in operation.

The board has thus far expended $1 million to allow recreation officials to begin talks with several contractors to flesh out the proposal. It also accounted for an agreement reached with the Telegraph Road site’s current property owner, Belno, LLC, to further sale negotiations.

Seth Hendler-Voss, director of Prince William County’s Department of Parks and Recreation who has headed the proposal, said on Friday the land purchase will close next month.

Officials indicated the nearest major competitor to the facility would be a similar site in Virginia Beach and Spooky Nook Sports, the country’s largest indoor sports facility located just outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Virginia Beach facility was recently revealed to be facing debts in the millions of dollars. Virginia Beach officials have since offloaded the city’s facility onto a buyer.

Project proponents, including Prince William Economic Development Director Christina Winn, have said it would become a key piece of sports tourism for the county and serve as a catalyst for additional development in the area. Winn said the surrounding area is primed for additional hotel development that could serve the more than 60,000 annual visitors the sportsplex is projected to draw.

Officials say the expected surge in sports tourism will also help boost the county’s small businesses as parents travel to their children’s sporting events and spend money on meals and merchandise while staying nearby, sometimes for days at a time.

The county has held a number of town hall-style meetings to solicit input from residents on the proposal. Its proponents include high school student athletes, an Olympic gold medalist in track, local coaches, sports league organizers and members of the pickleball community. Several public school student-athletes, coaches and parents have spoken of the lengthy travel times they endure to attend track meets since there isn’t a facility nearby.

The county board in 2019 considered an indoor sports complex as part of a bond referendum program for parks, but the proposal ultimately died because of cost concerns.

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