Field house proposal shapes up

Published 10:02 pm Friday, April 1, 2016

Chesapeake officials are still shaping their recommendations for a proposed field house in Western Branch, said City Manager Jim Baker.

Roughly three dozen residents attended Thursday’s information session where Baker and Mike Barber, the city’s director of parks, recreation and tourism, fielded questions about a proposal to build a field house in Western Branch.

In February, the Chesapeake City Council directed city staff to research and gather citizen input on Councilman Roland Davis’ proposal to build an indoor sports complex in the community. City staff expects to have recommendations ready by the council’s next meeting on April 12, Baker said.

Email newsletter signup

Initially, Davis requested that City Council amend its 2017 capital improvement plan to include $7 million in city funding for construction of a field house for tournaments, a move that he said would help rejuvenate the floundering Chesapeake Square retail district. Davis’ recommendation called for a venue that would include indoor turf fields, hard courts for volleyball and basketball, and a lounge or party room that would draw competitive sports teams from Chesapeake, Suffolk, Norfolk and Portsmouth.

“This is a complex decision … that ultimately is up to the City Council,” Baker said. The council will have to weigh staff’s recommendation against the city’s other capital priorities, including the possible need to provide infrastructure incentives to help revitalize Chesapeake Square Mall. The mall is heading into foreclosure and has an April 21 sales date.

A state-of-the-art facility would help bring in new businesses, Barber said. In Newport News, the city intentionally built new community centers in blighted areas in recent years, he said. Gradually, the retail and residential areas around those centers have improved, he said.

In their evaluations, city officials have looked at multiple field houses — large and small — on the East Coast, Barber said. He stressed the importance of building one large enough to support the community’s needs, yet still be financially sustainable.

“Ones larger then 100,000 square feet struggle unless … they have strong local use Monday through Thursday,” said Barber. One of the newest, most successful field houses the city has researched is a 100,000-square-foot indoor facility in Myrtle Beach, S.C., he added.

A survey being conducted by Western Branch Growing Forward, as well as input from citizens, shows that residents’ primary wish list are facilities for baseball, softball, soccer, basketball and field hockey, Barber said. In previous community meetings, citizens have also lobbied for a competitive swimming pool.

A swimming pool would require special consideration, such as long-term maintenance expenses and space for spectator seating, Barber said.

Residents and, ultimately, the City Council, would also have to determine whether they want multi-use space that residents could use during the week and the impact that could have on the existing community center in Western Branch, he said.

One resident suggested using a new, larger facility for summer and after-school sports clinics. The size of the current 25,000-square-foot community center limits such programs to 50-60 children, Barber said.

Another resident expressed concern about possible competition with Suffolk and Portsmouth, although neither city has such a facility on the immediate horizon.

A joint venture might be the best preferable option if Suffolk or Portsmouth has any interest, Baker said.