A ‘win’ for an underserved Sacramento neighborhood: $2.25 million sports complex opens !

NOVEMBER 30, 2021

Sacramento, CA – The long-awaited Del Paso Heights Sports Complex opened to the public Monday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the four new futsal courts and refurbished softball field. Public officials, local nonprofits and community organizers hope that the new complex, built at the formerly vacant lot just north of the Robertson Community Center on Norwood Avenue, will offer kids in the underserved neighborhood a much-needed recreational amenity, while also drawing hundreds of families and businesses to the area for youth camps and sports competitions. “We have something unique that’s is in Del Paso Heights only, and we’ll be able to build out opportunities for small businesses, food trucks, open-air markets,” said Danielle Lawrence, executive director of Mutual Assistance Network, which serves residents across Del Paso Heights. “We have the opportunity to make social connections and build out a better Del Paso Heights.”

The development of the complex, which has cost $2.25 million so far, was led by local nonprofit Mutual Assistance Network, in partnership with The Center at Sierra Health Foundation, Sacramento Republic FC and the city of Sacramento. Nearly $2 million in funding came from the city’s Measure U sales tax fund, with additional funding from the US Soccer Foundation and social justice organizations Black Players for Change and Black Women’s Players Collective. Mutual Assistance Network is the long-term lease holder for the complex and will be responsible for overseeing the softball field and futsal courts. While the amenities are technically open to the public, groups and tournaments will have to register to request field time with Mutual Assistance Network.

Mervin Brookins, co-founder of mentorship group Brother 2 Brother, has been organizing youth football, basketball and baseball camps in the neighborhood for years. He said both parents and kids he’s talked with are excited about the new sports complex, even though many haven’t heard of Futsal before. Futsal is a modified version of soccer, played on a smaller, hard-surface court. Teams usually consist of five players each, with one being a goalkeeper.

“There’s a lot of interest in soccer across the board,” Brookins said. “(Kids) are getting excited for our own place, our own arena, and parents are excited because it’s a no-contact sport.” Cities across the United States have increasingly looked to sports complexes as means of capitalizing on the popularity of youth sports and generating tourism revenue. Last year just before the pandemic, Roseville saw the opening of the largest sports complex in the region. The Placer Valley Event Center, a $47 million development, was expected to generate $12 million annually to the economy in south Placer County when it first opened. WinterGreen Research estimated in 2019 that the U.S. youth sports market was valued at $19 billion. Though youth sports participation has declined in recent years because of high costs, time commitments and more, there is growing appreciation for outdoor activities because of COVID-19-related shutdowns. 

City officials and organizers anticipate that the sports complex will generate an annual income of roughly $344,000 between tournaments, field rentals, snack bar operation and business sponsorships. “I’ve been able to watch businesses close down and not thrive, there’s continual switchover,” Lawrence said. “As far as I can see, we don’t have that economic catalyst or draw, but there is buzz and intentionality, and lots and lots of great small businesses and entrepreneurial minded people who would love to see this as a catalyst.” Del Paso Heights is one of Sacramento’s most racially diverse neighborhoods, made up largely of Black, Asian and Latino residents living in modest homes – “a beautiful community,” Brookins said. But the lower-income neighborhood has lacked city investment for decades, he said, and been rocked by the devastating effects of gun violence. While the new courts and refurbished field sends a message to residents that “Del Paso Heights is worth investing in,” Brookins said, he hopes more amenities and programs will come in the near future. “I don’t want this to be, ‘Hey, you got that so be satisfied.’ Now it’s got to be, ‘Hey, this happened, there’s more to come,’“ Brookins said.

There’s still more to do on the sports complex, Lawrence said, including installing additional lighting, adding more park amenities such as picnic areas and fitness equipment, and building up green spaces. Mutual Assistance Network is still fundraising to finish the complex. “It’s hard to do a capital project like this in the middle of a pandemic, but we’re forging ahead because we have the funding to start, and the neighborhood needs a win,” Lawrence said. “This is something for the neighborhood, and it is a win.” Children participate in a soccer workshop with Sacramento Republic FC clinics coaches Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, the opening day of the Del Paso Heights Sports Complex in Sacramento. 

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