State funding gives big boost to Champion City indoor sports, health center

Champion City Sports & Wellness Center gets $4 million in budget bill.

A planned downtown Springfield indoor sports and wellness facility took a significant step closer to reality with last week’s passage of the state budget, which included $4 million for the Champion City Sports & Wellness Center.

Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Greater Springfield Partnership, said the project will be a total investment of $17 million-plus.

“This is not an insignificant investment for Springfield and Clark County,” McDorman said.

The facility tentatively would have about 100,000 square feet, offer multi-purpose space for either eight basketball courts, 16 volleyball courts or 24 pickleball courts. It also would have a two-lane fitness track.

The center would serve sports teams from out of the area about 26 weekends of the year, McDorman has said, and on weekdays would be a community wellness center.

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McDorman called the state funding “catalytic for the project” and said it would allow supporters to move ahead.

“This makes this real ... This can happen,” he said.

“We’re going to the next steps of site selection and figuring out funding gaps and last pieces,” he said.

McDorman called it “kind of a rough guesstimate” the project still will be $3 million to $5 million short and partners will work to address that.

The biggest variable now is land prices, he said.

“We have a site we would prefer, but what is it going to cost?” he said, declining to specify the land.

McDorman said they will go through a process of looking at multiple sites over the coming weeks.

“We really want this to be in or near downtown,” he said.

That is because the project will stimulate other parts of the economy, McDorman said, such as hotels, restaurants and retail businesses.

“All those things feed on themselves in that ecosystem,” he said, “as we seek to revitalize this important core of our community.”

McDorman said supporters were excited to receive the $4 million, though he noted officials requested $7 million, which would have put the Champion City center over the top for certain.

State Rep. Bernie Willis, R-Springfield, sought the money in February but was not allowed to bring the request forward, he said, because of a dispute with Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill. Willis said then Stephens played favorites.

McDorman thanked Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London, and Willis for their work “to help us get to the starting line.” He also praised the city of Springfield and others for their support.

“The city has been an incredible partner ... our foundations have been incredible supporters,” McDorman said. “It has taken a lot of partnership to get to this place.”

The project has been talked about since at least 2015. It received a shot in the arm earlier this year when the regional Dayton Development Coalition included it on a priority funding list.

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The Clark County Convention Facilities Authority will own and operate the sports center with a third-party vendor to manage it.

Supporters will seek proposals from three to four operators to run the Champion City center.

“You really want to have a handle on the management side as you build it,” McDorman said.

For instance, the courts and track are certain to be part of the center, but McDorman asked, “What else could you put in it?”

He wondered if the facility could make space for other sports that struggle to find a home.

This will be a countywide center, he said, estimating 70% of the time local residents will use it and the other 30% by those from outside the area coming for events and tournaments.

“This was a big step, but we still have some things to figure out,” he said.

The Champion City Sports & Wellness Center is planned as an air-supported building, or dome, with limited bricks and mortar.

An example of an air-supported structure is the Cincinnati Bengals indoor practice facility, the fabric roof of which is visible to drivers on Interstates 75 and 71 to motorists who are crossing the Ohio River.

The Springfield center would have an 8,000 square foot brick and mortar welcome facility that would house concessions, restroom facilities and an entry to the dome portion via an air-lock entrance.