The SODA Blog

The official blog of the Sportsplex Operators & Developers Association

Family First SPORTSPARK, in Erie, PA plans to be revealed Tuesday !

Donors will be sought to aid the redevelopment of Family First Sports Park.

It’s been almost three years since he introduced plans to reinvent the Family First Sports Park complex in Summit Township, but Erie lawyer and youth hockey coach Robert Catalde said that plan is alive and well.

On Tuesday, members of Greater Regional Erie Athletic Team Training, the nonprofit formed by Catalde to lead redevelopment efforts, will hold a news conference with officials from Summit Township and the consulting firm Rink Management Services, which G.R.E.A.T.T. has hired to manage and operate the facility.

That night, Catalde and others will make a pitch to prospective donors as part of a capital campaign. Additional phases are contingent on funding.

There is no timetable for the project, but Catalde, equipped with an economic impact study and some financing, now has more detailed plans for what the first phase will entail. He also has about $8.5 million of funding in place for the first phase, which has a $9.1 million price tag.

That preliminary funding includes several substantial contributions, loans and about $3.5 million in public funds, specifically $3 million from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, which was issued in 2016, and $520,000 from the Summit Township Industrial Economic Development Authority.

Ultimately, Catalde said, debt would make up less than half of the $9.1 million needed to relaunch the facility.

The first phase would cover the following:

‒ The purchase of about 43 acres of property from owner Glen Renaud.

‒ Replacement of two soccer fields inside the fieldhouse with two NHL-sized ice pads and proper dehumidification equipment.

‒ Renovation of eight dressing rooms for athletes and two for referees.

‒ Resurfacing of existing basketball and volleyball courts.

‒ Renovation of the complex’s dome for a new turfed training facility.

‒ Replacing a miniature golf course and two-tier driving range in the dome with a single-lane, floor-level driving range.

‒ Installation of a full-sized turfed field for soccer and lacrosse, as well as two turfed training areas.

‒ Grass soccer and lacrosse fields outside the complex would be restored.

Catalde stressed during a meeting with the Erie Times-News Editorial Board Thursday that the facility will be improved for athletes of all sports, not just hockey. However, he believes Erie has the potential to be a “mecca” for hockey in the region.

Noting the distance many youth hockey teams travel for tournaments and practice — places like Meadville; Mentor, Ohio; and Fredonia and Jamestown in New York — there’s enough need to justify the improvements, he said, adding that rinks in Erie have either closed in recent years, or are in need of repair.

“It’s not uncommon for 60 kids to be on one pad for an hour,” during Erie Youth Hockey Association practices at JMC Ice Arena in Erie, noted Catalde, who began a push three years ago for a new facility for youth hockey.

Family First, which opened to the public in 1994, has been owned by the Renaud family since the beginning.

But the facility needs to be renovated because Erie is missing out on sports tournaments and other events that would stimulate the local economy, said Ron Sertz, executive director of the Erie Sports Commission.

Catalde said Family First is “perfectly” located south of Interstate 90 and near hotels, restaurants and retailers that would attract families. It’s also properly sized.

“We wanted to create a facility that hits the sweet spot, where it’s big enough where we can offer the space for tournaments to come in,” he said, “but it’s small enough that at the times where we don’t have tournaments the place isn’t half empty.”

Catalde has been mum about the project in recent months, in part because of a confidentiality agreement between G.R.E.A.T.T. and Renaud that was in place for a year and a half. He said that has kept him from generating community support.

Sertz said G.R.E.A.T.T. has “100 percent” backing from the sports commission. He believes it will be a boon for the local economy. One economic impact study shows that the project could create 140 jobs and have a one-year economic impact of $27.7 million. Catalde said that it would create positive cash flow after the first year of operations.

“We know there are other national and state competitions that can go there if we market the place,” Sertz said. “We can bring people in.”

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