Officials from Kanawha County and Charleston announced this week a joint venture to turn a portion of the Charleston Town Center mall into an indoor sports complex. The plans call for the former Macy’s store location and Lee Street parking garage to be converted into an aquatic center, basketball, volleyball and pickleball courts, an indoor turf field, a wrestling area, an elevated running and walking track and other recreational amenities.
The Capital Sports Center is a bold plan, and an expensive one, with a price tag of $80 million. County Commissioner Ben Salango, one of the drivers behind the project, said it will be paid for with a combination of public and private dollars.
Salango said on Talkline Thursday he is confident the sports complex will be an economic driver. “We don’t even have a shovel in the ground, and I’ve already got restaurants reaching out, businesses reaching out and hotels are calling. Restaurants are asking what is available at the mall.”
That is encouraging. The Town Center mall, once one of the premier shopping centers in the state, has fallen on hard times. Anchor stores have closed and there are nearly as many vacant storefronts as active businesses.
Salango and others pushing the project hope the sports complex will be a destination for the ever-expanding market of youth and travel sports, much like what has occurred at the outdoor Shawnee Sports Complex in Dunbar.
“You flood this place with 10,000 athletes and their families, they are going to the mall, they are eating in the food court and doing the things we need to do here which is (attract) foot traffic downtown,” Salango said. “I think it is going to change the landscape.”
Similar sports complexes are already paying dividends in other parts of the state. The Bridge Sports Complex in Bridgeport serves as an important recreation and community center for sports, events, youth and adult programs. Mylan Park near Morgantown has sports fields and courts, an aquatic center, a gym, and space for events.
There is plenty of research showing these types of facilities have a positive impact on the economic and social well-being of communities. They attract visitors and events, and provide a place for local youth and adults to play and exercise.
This is an enormous investment; be prepared for a chorus of naysayers who will want to denounce the proposal as a boondoggle. Of course there is risk, but the success of Shawnee Park and other sports complexes here and across the country demonstrates the myriad benefits that should accompany the Capital Sports Center.