WILMINGTON — It’s been a little over a year since additional funding was approved for a 64-acre multipurpose sports complex and challenges since breaking ground have led to another budget increase.
The nCino sports complex, to include 12 fields at build out — seven with athletic lighting for night games and practice, four natural turf and one synthetic — broke ground in February. It will also have permanent lighting, a restroom facility and a maintenance building.
Initially intended to be finished by April 2024, the city is now estimating August 2024 before work is done.
The City of Wilmington initially signed off on a $10-million investment to redevelop a former landfill turned brownsfield property, which means it contains environmental contamination. The project was included in the 2016 transportation bond, voted on by the public.
Last August, city staff presented a $3.5-million gap in financing for construction. At Monday’s city council agenda briefing, engineer Matt Hart told council another $3 million might be needed for the project, now coming in at nearly $20 million.
“Developing the Flemington landfill is a vital community investment, but it doesn’t come without unexpected challenges,” Hart said.
He pointed to additional landfill material being uncovered as underground work to install piping and facility foundations has begun. The waste was uncovered at shallower depths than anticipated, resulting in the need for additional removal and soil import.
The approved environmental management plan requires 18 inches of soil cover over the old landfill materials and the project team has been coordinating with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality on possible solutions.
Hart presented two options to council at the meeting: keep the current grading, remove and haul off unexpected waste and add additional soil; or revise the grading plan to only require the amount of soil needed to meet the 18-inch cover plan, without changing the elevations of other site elements.
The city and NCDEQ are still negotiating on a path forward.
Also, lighting poles at the entrance to the complex and in the parking lot will require a specialized foundation to ensure they’re properly supported. Additional geotechnical investigation is required to determine the proper design, Hart said.
The permanent lighting is vital especially during the winter months when the sun goes down early, according to Wilmington Hammerheads executive director Carson Porter, who spoke to New Hanover County Commissioners Aug. 21.
Another roadblock was discovered through a well feasibility study, which detailed the need for another irrigation well to support maintenance of the sports fields.
A structural engineer has been hired to provide budgetary estimates for updated construction costs, according to Hart.
Work has been progressing since contractor T.A. Loving mobilized in January and was at 40% completion last month.
Over the last seven months, crews have demolished all above and below ground structures to make way for new development, Hart explained.
About 5,000 linear feet of underground piping for a methane gas vent system has been installed, as well as 4,000 linear feet of 4-inch domestic and 5-inch fire water lines. Infrastructure is also currently being established for Duke Energy and the underground stormwater drainage system for the synthetic field is in the works.
The foundation for the 2,000-square foot restroom facility is beginning to take shape as well as 40-foot-deep auger-drilled bases for the athletic lighting.
“We’re ready to receive the lighting poles and fixtures,” Hart said, adding the parts should be delivered Monday.
Landscaping plans have been altered to reduce the amount of Bermuda sod planned for the areas not receiving permanent irrigation. Hardy native plants are being considered in its place, which will receive temporary irrigation while planted to ensure survival.
“I see so many of the plans we approve here, five and six years down the road and they look like hell because there’s not any irrigation,” council member Charlie Rivenbark said to Hart at the meeting.
He said he would prefer to see fewer plants that may not thrive in the sportsplex and instead more native grasses that are drought resistant.
“We’re spending a lot of money over there and there’s a lot of people got their hopes riding on this soccer complex,” Rivenbark added.” It’s an economic engine, as well as a way to entertain our kids.”
It’s estimated the fields will welcome more than 14,000 visitors annually.
The land — appraised in 2019 at $3.5 million — was donated by the Wilmington Hammerheads Youth Football Program as part of a 17-year management agreement. The nonprofit manages the current Cape Fear Regional Soccer Park and identified unused opportunities with the expansive land; about half, or 32 acres, was not developed.
Once the nCino sports complex — named for the financial tech company’s $1.3 million sponsorship — is completed, the Hammerheads will continue to manage the fields for a fee from the city for at least 17 years. The staff will oversee, promote and schedule all activities, as well as provide recommendations for capital improvements and perform required field and equipment maintenance.
For the first five years, the Hammerheads will receive $225,000 per year; additional compensation will increase by 5% or based on the consumer price index. All revenues from sponsorships and event reservations will be split 50/50 with the city.
In turn, the Hammerheads will get priority field reservation for seven of the fields January through June and August through November. The organization currently oversees multiple leagues with more than 3,500 kids, city community services director Amy Beatty said Monday.
Hammerheads director Porter said the youth involved are “disconnected” right now, having to temporarily practice and play at various New Hanover County and city parks.
“Prior to construction, they were hosting two tournaments annually, hosting 470 teams altogether,” Beatty said. “They would like to do more, but have been limited on the number of tournaments; you really need 10 or more fields to get sanctioned tournaments.”
The current Cape Fear Regional Soccer Park opened in 2001 with five fields, and Porter said during those two annual events, in May and November, “you can’t find a hotel room anywhere in this town.”
Already upward of 15,000 people come through Wilmington and spend money at restaurants, retail locations, hotels and gas stations.
“With this project, they should be able to do that and increase the tourism this site is seeing,” Beatty said.
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