Design of the nCino Sports Complex is complete, with the bidding process to construct the multi-million dollar facility beginning in the coming weeks.
Donated in 2019 to the city of Wilmington by the Wilmington Hammerheads FC, the hometown youth soccer club, the 64-acre site for the complex was once a landfill. The donation put in place a partnership that will likely pay dividends to each party and the community at large for years to come.
Carson Porter, the Hammerheads’ executive director, said the city already has a healthy sports tourism industry, even with its less-than-stellar but still adequate facilities.
“This is an opportunity for us to bring people to Wilmington to stay in our hotels, to eat in our restaurants, to come to our events in a bigger way than they already are,” he said. Even more important than luring in visitors, Porter said, is the opportunity for the region’s children to play on sleek, professional facilities. “I think what’s most important is making sure we do right by our citizens, our kids, our children, our families,” he said. "I do believe that every single child in our community will pass through that park."
At the Hammerheads’ semiannual tournaments at the complex known as the Cape Fear Regional Soccer Park, “we basically have to turn teams away,” Porter explained, due to maxing out available fields, with games spread across town at three separate facilities. Located behind Cape Fear Pick N Pull off Sutton Steam Plant Road, roughly half of the sports complex property is undeveloped; the final plan calls for 11 multi-purpose fields, including one made with synthetic turf.
Tuesday, Wilmington City Council approved via its consent agenda spending $800,000 for MUSCO Sports Lighting LLC to install lighting at the complex.
The Hammerheads recently decided to pitch in another $225,000 to add another set of lights to the complex, Porter said, after obtaining a loan from Dogwood State Bank.
“We're happy to do it because we think it's the right thing to do,” he said. “Lights add time slots, which means we can kick off a game at 5 o'clock instead of having to stop playing… So with that, that's more teams, that's more revenue, that's more hotel stays, that's more people in our community.”
Wilmington has committed to spend at least $10 million on the project, first approved by voters in the 2016 parks bond. An exact final project cost isn’t available until the city awards a construction bid, a process set to happen in the coming months.
“This is a great project, the bond is a huge help, but the truth is, we could spend $20 million on this project for the size and scale we’re doing,” Porter said.
Details as to how the facility will be reserved on a daily basis once it's complete are still being worked out.
As part of the land donation – then valued at $3.4 million – the Hammerheads and city entered into a 17-year management agreement. Per the agreement, the Hammerheads and city will evenly split revenue earned at the park, including concessions and event-based rental fees (for the first two years after the park is complete, the city will keep all revenue before the 50-50 split begins).
The nonprofit Hammerheads organization is responsible for nearly all maintenance and management duties at the park. For the first five years after the park is complete, the city will pay the Hammerheads $225,000 to cover its management and maintenance expenses; this amount will slightly rise in the future.
In May 2021, the city cemented a naming and sponsorship deal with nCino, another homegrown institution. nCino will pay the city $125,000 annually over a 10-year period for the title sponsorship and threw in another $50,000 to assist with signage costs.
Once construction commences, Porter said the project should take roughly one year to complete, with a 2023 opening date anticipated.
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