City leaders gathered Wednesday morning at an old dumping ground to celebrate the beginning of something new and inviting.
“We stand here today on an old landfill,” Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said at the groundbreaking ceremony for the nCino Sports Park. Tucked away off U.S. 421, the site of the future multi-sport complex is unassuming, scattered with several soccer fields, but soon, it’s poised to be a center for youth sports tourism.
The $16.9 million project will transform the Cape Fear Regional Soccer Park with the addition of four new grass fields, one synthetic turf field, new lights, restroom facilities, necessary infrastructure and traffic improvements. Though it will be managed by the soccer organization, the Hammerheads Youth FC, the 11-field complex will be utilized for lacrosse, football, ultimate frisbee, rugby and other sports.
It is slated to attract more than 140,000 visitors through tournaments and other events annually, Saffo said at the ceremony.
“Make no mistake: This is a challenging project to transform a former landfill to a sports park and it has taken some time to say the least. But impactful projects like this are worth the wait,” Saffo said. “And this project will be impactful not only to the citizens we serve but will be a destination sports venue for visitors who will come to the park for tournaments and other events….The economic impact of the tournament[s] will be significant.”
Voters approved spending $10 million on the project in the 2016 parks bond. In May 2021, locally founded global fintech company nCino inked a deal with the city for naming rights
at the facility and pitched in $1.3 million. The Hammerheads added $225,000 to assist with lighting costs
early last year.
In 2019, the Wilmington Hammerheads FC donated 64 acres of the site to the city with the goal of forming a partnership to create the new multi-purpose facility. The group had owned the land since 2001, and its value had grown to $3.5 million. It was a win-win, officials said, as available land had grown scarce and expensive, and the nonprofit organization lacked the means to tackle such a large project on its own. “We’re just a little nonprofit,” Hammerheads executive director Carson Porter said. “We’d never have millions of dollars lying around.”
Inflation and ballooning construction costs are to blame for the higher-than-planned
total budget of nearly $17 million, according to city engineering project manager Matt Hart.
Work officially began in January, Hart said, and the project is slated to wrap up – weather permitting – by March 2024. Because the site has environmental concerns, the amount of rainfall could impact the construction timeline. “Every time you get rain out here, if you have soil uncovered, there’s a potential for contaminants,” he said.
Head of diversity, equity and inclusion at nCino, Zedrick Applin, said the opportunity was a gratifying professional and personal accomplishment. “I moved here in 2019,” Applin said. “And it was youth sports that helped my kids to be able to acclimate to the city, to be able to make friends and get to be able to see them as they're building and learning new skills and gaining the kind of confidence that they gained because of what youth sports provides.”
Porter said the Hammerheads faced hurdles in seeing the vision through but that he was grateful for the support they received from city officials and nCino.
In addition to being a new facility for residents, Porter said the reimagined sports park will be an economic development tool
. “The phone calls that I get from business leaders who are trying to recruit talent to our area, whose first question is, ‘What's your youth sports landscape like?’” he said. “A healthy youth sports community and culture is really important for a thriving, growing community.”
As the project moves forward, Porter said he hopes that the organization can continue to attract positive role models to serve as coaches and leaders for the area’s youth. “There's so many life lessons to teach on fields,” he said.