SANDUSKY, OH. — The U.S. Olympic “Dream Team” featured phenomenal basketball talents like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
Similarly, over the past decade, many local officials and area executives came together to assemble their own superstar squad, which involved recruiting marquee players of varying talents uniting for one common community goal.
Without their teamwork, a state-of-the-art, gold-medal-worthy indoor sports arena couldn’t have opened — like it did on Friday.
From travel teams to community members, with a heavy focus on youth participation, people can compete in several sports inside a 145,000-square-foot playing area. The zone can cater to basketball, volleyball, wrestling, soccer, gymnastics, dancing, cheerleading and pickleball.
Guests can also partake in many other on-site activities, ranging from climbing obstacle courses to exercising on a one-eighth-mile-long track.
The center aims to provide a game-changing experience for athletes, young and old, near and far, said Duff Milkie, Cedar Fair’s general counsel and executive vice president. Cedar Fair is Cedar Point’s parent company.
“This project, and so many others, are occurring in our community to raise the bar and fortify our foundation for growth and development,” Milkie said.
Dishing out assists
When dignitaries spoke during the ceremony, no one person representing a single employer fully took credit. Rather everyone shared in the recognition:
• Cedar Point and Cedar Fair took the lead by first proposing the idea, bringing stakeholders together and now owning the land where this very indoor complex sits. Milkie, along with former Cedar Point CEO Matt Ouimet and his successor, Richard Zimmerman, wholeheartedly advocated for the sports-tourism initiative.
• The amusement park hired Sports Facilities Management and its affiliated company, Sports Facilities Advisory, to attract youth-based teams from all across North America to play games there. Together they oversee a portfolio exceeding $6 billion in sports and entertainment centers and manage about 15 venues nationwide.
• The above paired up with Firelands Regional Medical Center which opened the Lee C. Jewett Sports Medicine Center within this complex. Both athletes competing at the sports center and community members can receive treatment at this health care facility specializing in physical, occupational, speech therapy and sports medicine services.
• Erie County’s government, shepherded by commissioners Pat Shenigo and Matt Old, approved several policies for the project. One includes increasing Erie County’s bed tax rate, the primary funding mechanism paying for this arena. Not a single cent of local taxpayer money went or will go toward the project.
• Hoteliers, through convincing by staff from Lake Erie Shores & Islands, the area’s tourism bureau, also agreed to the bed tax increase. The extra money generated by guests staying in hotels, eating in restaurants and shopping in stores will generate additional tax dollars eventually going into budgets overseen by local governments. The center’s early projections show many more guests staying in these lodges, helping these hoteliers profit.
• Sandusky’s government — spearheaded by ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr.; commissioners Dick Brady, Naomi Twine and Dave Waddington; along with city manager Eric Wobser — backed resolutions dovetailing with the center’s development.
• Erie MetroParks, which could’ve bought this land before Cedar Point did, worked with the amusement park and Cedar Fair on a sales agreement. In return, both companies promised to preserve wetlands abutting this property for a future park, named The Landing, which includes expanding the Sandusky Bay Pathway through this area.
• Area representatives — from past officeholders Steve Arndt and Randy Gardner to incumbents Theresa Gavarone and D.J. Swearingen — have and continue to champion the cause in Columbus.
• Multiple county-based school districts and recreational organizations signed agreements which allow students in their districts to practice and play games there.
“This is a shared success,” Milkie said. “It took everyone to go in the same direction. We raised our expectations, and then we met those expectations. Through collaboration, the community came together and, for that, we all owe ourselves a round of applause.”
Many attributed Milkie, on the private side, and Shenigo, on the public side, as the project’s co-captains. They first conceived the idea about 10 years ago during a friendly get together and, ever since then, worked tirelessly to fund, develop and build it with their project partners.
“While this took many years to accomplish, without our partnerships, this project would have never happened,” Shenigo said. “We owe you all our deepest appreciation for making what was just a dream turn into a reality.”
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