DUNBAR, W.Va. — More than six months since a groundbreaking ceremony at its future site, the first section of the Shawnee Sports Complex opened to the public Tuesday.

Young lacrosse and soccer players were spread across six collegiate-sized fields, which are also capable of hosting football events. Construction on four collegiate-sized baseball-softball fields will begin Monday.

The Kanawha County Commission agreed in May 2017 to move forward with reconfiguring the former Shawnee Park, which included a golf course, into a complex capable of hosting local and regional youth sports tournaments. County officials have described the park as a “day’s trip” for two-thirds of the United States population.

Kanawha County Commission Ben Salango, who has spearheaded the $17 million project, said Tuesday was an exciting day for Kanawha County.

“This is an opportunity not just for our kids to play, but it’s really an opportunity for economic development,” he said. “The economic development from the Shawnee Sports facility is going to be around $40 million a year.”

Three U.S. Youth Soccer tournaments are already scheduled to take place at the sports complex in conjunction with the Barboursville Soccer Complex, possibly generating $32 million in economic impact in the Kanawha Valley.

Local officials, such as Dunbar Mayor Bill Cunningham, said he has already been talking to businesses about the business opportunities in Kanawha County because of the sports complex.

“It is the biggest economic engine that has hit the Kanawha Valley in years,” he said. “When you think about manufacturing jobs and so forth like that, here we are bringing money from outside of the Valley, which is new money in the Valley, which will really stimulate the economy here.”

Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt said he is confident his city will see a tourism increase because of the sports complex.

“They’re going to be staying in our hotels, they’re going to be shopping at our stores, they’re going to be eating at our restaurants,” he said. “This is probably one of the best things to have ever happened to this county.”

The 2019 and 2020 U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Presidents Cup and the 2019 U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships will attract more than 400 teams during the events.

Complex facilities director Katie Arthur said local children will also benefit from the complex, as more fields mean more places for youth sports.

“Just being involved in that team kept us out of trouble,” said. “It just made us the people were are today, and I’m just happy we can provide this for kids of all sports.”

Salango understands the impact of youth sports; he has credited sports for shaping his childhood and currently coaches a youth soccer team, the 2007 Sharks.

“The goal is to get them off the couch, away from the video games and out on a field somewhere. For every minute they are out on a field, that’s a minute they are not getting into trouble,” he said.

The baseball/softball fields are expected to be complete by Dec. 28, the one-year anniversary of when ground was broken at the site.

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