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Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 03:33 pm

Fields of dreams

Sports complex breaks ground

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Developers of Legacy Sports Complex started moving earth last week.
PHOTO BY BRUCE RUSHTON

There was no ribbon cutting this time around, but dirt, finally, is being turned for new ballfields at the southern edge of Springfield.

Bulldozers roared up last Friday, just one day after the three partners behind Legacy Sports Complex got their final permit from the city.

“We’ll have a top-notch facility,” said Jeremy Strawn, one of three partners behind the complex that will feature 15 fields for baseball, softball and soccer. “It will be one of the best in the United States.”

Springfield has heard that sort of thing before.

The site was pitched as a sports complex as long ago as 1997, when politicians and business leaders gathered for a fancy groundbreaking ceremony at what was to become Xanadu, with fields and restaurants and a dinner theater and room for trade shows and concerts at a project that boasted three separate domes for sporting events, none of which were ever built.

The project got even bigger and better, at least on paper, in 2009, when Calvary Temple, which owned the property, made plans for a $60 million complex with six baseball diamonds, seven soccer fields and a football stadium. The featured baseball diamond would have seating for 3,500 fans, and a 100,000-square-foot indoor athletic complex would offer refuge from inclement weather, with fields for various sports as well as room for basketball, volleyball, pitching tunnels and batting cages. None of it was ever built.

“I believe that property has been a little cursed over the years, to say the least,” said Ward 7 Ald. Cory Jobe.

Not anymore, according to Strawn, president of Sports Field Contractors of Pawnee.

“We’re going to build the best complex we can build,” said Strawn, whose company built new baseball and football facilities for Sacred Heart-Griffin High School. “It’ll make money. We know that.”

Strawn says he’s been building athletic fields for 16 years now for clients as big as the Miami Dolphins and as far away as Brazil. Closer to home, he has installed fields at the Lenz Field and Sports Complex in Jacksonville, which boasts a half-dozen baseball diamonds.

Synthetic turf that drains and dries long before natural grass or dirt will be a draw.

“When it’s wet and mucky, people don’t want to get out there and play baseball in the spring,” Strawn said. “Our fields will be open and playable.”

Having neither a dinner theater nor restaurants, Legacy Sports Complex will not be as big or fancy as other proposals for the site that never got far.

All told, there will be five baseball diamonds, five diamonds for softball or Little League and five soccer fields. Strawn is hoping for the first pitch next spring.

“During the week, we’re planning on having local colleges and other teams from the area use it,” Strawn said. “On weekends, the place will be turned over to whoever is renting it. ... We’re going to give the best rate we can to the local teams. We’ll make the money on weekends when the tournaments come.”

Jobe says he’s all for it, and he notes that the developers haven’t asked for tax increment financing or other public subsidies.

“I think it’s a great thing for the city,” Jobe said. “It’s close to Legacy Pointe and what’s happening at Scheels. I think you might start seeing other things happen. There’s always been this talk of a new baseball facility over the years. We’ve got a lot of teams. Instead of folks going out of town, they can come here.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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