Plans unveiled for multi-field sports complex near CHEER center

GEORGETOWN – Donated land just north of the CHEER Community Center on Sand Hill Road is earmarked for a multi-field sports complex.

Sussex Sports Center is a public/private venture that Joe Schell hopes will plant seeds for what will become a county-based parks and recreation initiative.

“In this county, we don’t have a parks and rec department. The other two counties do. That is a shortfall and the way our county is growing we have got to respond to the need that is in this community,” said Mr. Schell. “The concept is if Sussex County Council supports us at the level which they indicated they will, we will then give this to Sussex County, hopefully as the first park and rec effort of the Sussex County Council.”

Joe Schell, left, speaks with Georgetown Mayor Bill West, center, and CHEER marketing director Anthony DelFranco after his presentation on the proposed sports complex.

Plans, unveiled by Mr. Schell Wednesday at the Greater Georgetown Chamber of Commerce Economic Development luncheon, include eight Bermuda grass fields that would accommodate soccer, field hockey and lacrosse.

Fields would be utilized for tournaments, like baseball tournaments hosted by Sports at the Beach a few miles down Rt. 9, as well as club and open play.

“We have Sports at the Beach. We don’t need any more baseball fields. That is a great facility for us in this county,” said Mr. Schell. “This is a great facility for the other sports: field hockey, soccer and lacrosse.”

“It’s just going to be an upside to sports tourism in our area,” said Scott Thomas, Southern Delaware Tourism executive director. “You don’t have to look too far down the road at Sports at the Beach on the baseball side to see the impact.

“The number that I am aware of is kind of the $25 million range each year that Sports at the Beach brings. It takes into account dining … hotel stays,” said Mr. Thomas. “And it’s not just a Georgetown thing, even though Georgetown is right there and certainly feels the benefit but it’s a county thing.”

Projected cost is $3.75 million. Funding will be sought from various sources and levels of government, from town to federal, along with business and private donors as well as a public campaign.

“We are in the town of Georgetown. We will be looking to them to support financially part of what we are doing here. We have already had great feedback from the Sussex County Council. They are willing to be a partner with us at a very high level. They haven’t approved it yet but they are certainly very positive so far in all of our conversations,” said Mr. Schell.

Georgetown Mayor Bill West and Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson are on the organizing committee for the project, Mr. Schell noted.

“I think it’s going to be a huge economic boom, especially for the downtown,” said Georgetown Town Manager Gene Dvornik. “Obviously, as people come for tournaments they are going need places to eat, places to shop. It dovetails quite nicely with Sports at the Beach and the downtown development district.”

Overnight visitors also need a place to sleep. “There are plans being discussed about another hotel so we should be in good shape,” Mr. Dvornik said.

An estimated $2 million for the project “will come from myself and a whole bunch of other people like you all in the community that want to see this come and want to contribute to it. So, we are setting up a foundation,” said Mr. Schell. “The foundation will be the owner of the facility initially and the operator of the facility for an initial period of time.”

Joe Schell shares information on the proposed multi-field sports complex on Sand Hill Road in Georgetown.

Fundraising will start with a “quiet” period, with hopes that more than “half will be committed by the time we go public with this campaign,” said Mr. Schell.

With anticipated approval from the town of Georgetown, expectation is the fields will be ready for play in late September/October 2018, Mr. Schell said.

The project will encompass between 56 to 70 acres. Mr. Schell, whose family and Schell Brothers business ave made numerous generous donations to the Sussex County community and schools, is donating the land. “The land contribution will be a gift, from me, to this project,” he said.

Field work and storm-water construction will require about 75 employees. That process will take about eight months.

“Then we’ll let the grass grow in. That is going to take all of next summer. These fields will first be playable we hope in late September/October of next year; about 15 months from now,” said Mr. Schell.

Once in operation, only a couple part-time employees will be needed, for tournament scheduling and maintenance.

“Hopefully, we’ll get volunteer labor from the clubs,” Mr. Schell said. “Most the lacrosse clubs and soccer clubs are perfectly happy to donate their time and energy in exchange for allowing them to use the fields at a reduced rate. They will pay something, but they will pay a reduced rate if they help with the maintenance.”

Sussex Sports Center will be open from 8 a.m. until dusk. It will be gated and locked during off hours.

A small per-person participation fee will likely be charged to help with maintenance cost and operations.

“We will charge per person mostly likely. It’s not going to be a difficult amount for clubs to handle,” Mr. Schell said.

Future plans include an approximate 3-mile walking/running trail and pickleball courts for a sport quite popular with the older generation. The trail will begin near Rt. 9 and meander through and around the field complex.

Pickleball courts, Mr. Schell said, “are not going to be built right away. We’re going to see what the traffic flow is and everything else. If we succeed we will build pickleball courts by the parking (area). That is the game plan.”

Another amenity: a covered pavilion/picnic area with grills provided. “Hopefully, we will draw crowds that do not just come for soccer but come for family gatherings,” said Mr. Schell.

Greater Georgetown Chamber member Ray Hopkins noted CHEER Inc.’s plans for the Life Care Village senior living development on the nearby CHEER property.

“I see your proposal plus what’s happening at CHEER as a terrific compliment to each other. It provides activity, walking paths and I think this is nothing but a positive thing,” Mr. Hopkins said.

Mr. Schell believes the project feeds a growing need.

“Sussex County we think has a need for more playing fields, particularly in the middle of the county. We’ve got the Hudson Fields and some others on the east side of the county. There are some on the west side of the county but there is not a heck of a lot of fields other than the fields of the schools in this part of the county. Schools don’t like big usage on their fields which is logical because they don’t want to tear it up for their kids when they are in school,” he said. “If this park is going to be used by all of our kids and all of our grand-kids, everybody should feel like, ‘I want to be a part of that.’”

“Everybody knows what is happening in Sussex County. Our population is booming compared to the other two counties and compared to most other counties in the country right now. We are attracting two sets of people: older people, retirees or pre-retirees and younger people who will want to serve those people and start businesses like my sons. All the hospitals are expanding. All the schools are expanding,” said Mr. Schell. “So, it’s not just older folks that are moving in. There is a great growth in the younger areas which is a blessing.”

“If we can cover expenses the objective I have and I think the county has once they take over – because the objective is in seven years or thereabouts turning it over – once we have shown it is viable, it’s breaking even on an operating-cost basis, then our job is to turn it over to them and hopefully it’s the first of several parks and rec facilities,” said Mr. Schell, “So, it’s sort of a carrot out in front of the county to say, ‘If you come with us on this public/private partnership, this could be the start of something that will be very meaningful to this county going forward.’”

Mr. Schell said efforts will be made to work with Sports at the Beach and tournament scheduling.

“We will hopefully be coordinating with them on when we host tournaments as compared to when they host tournaments so we don’t create bottlenecks. Our hope is that we will attract tournaments here on these fields during the shoulder months, late spring, early fall and during the summertime,” said Mr. Schell.

Bermuda grass over turf

“The decision we made is we’re going to plant these fields in Bermuda grass,” said Mr. Schell, adding artificial turf fields are “great for bad weather but not very good fields for hot weather. Summertime weather which is when these fields will be mainly used it’s usually 85 or 90 degrees around here. The synthetic turf fields like the two we have over at Sussex Academy are really hot. They are probably 20 to 30 degrees hotter than the ambient temperature. So, for the kids, they dehydrate in a hurry. Bermuda grass is the most rugged grass for athletic events.”


Plans will accommodate 350 cars in a paved parking area with grassy areas for overflow parking. “So, ultimately we can handle about 750 cars. I hope we never get to that total. It will be a real traffic nightmare,” said Mr. Schell.

Traffic concerns

Mr. Schell noted the intersection of Rt. 9, Airport Road and Sandhill Road is already busy with east/west traffic as well proximity to the CHEER Community Center and Sussex Academy and the Delaware Coastal Airport.

“We’re working with DelDOT on this intersection to get it a little bit more user-friendly. It’s not user-friendly now. The school is on one side; CHEER is on the other. Traffic is trying to flow east/west. There are too many light shifts. We will be working with DelDOT on that,” said Mr. Schell.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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