On Monday, August 25, Kent County Levy Court Commissioner, Eric Buckson, along with Bill Strickland, Past President of Kent County Sports Complex and Committee Member, Gregg Moore, presented information regarding the new complex to Milford City Council. The complex will consist of 13 rectangular fields geared toward soccer, field hockey and lacrosse. One field will be designated as a field hockey field in partnership with the United States Field Hockey Association.
“Tournament play can be very disjointed, as teams are playing all over an area,” Mr. Strickland explained. “You may play one game at a high school, while another game is played at a local college. The fact that all the fields are in one location gives this complex a competitive edge over other areas.” Mr. Strickland also explained that the project has been studied by three different firms, all of which project $18 million annually in economic impact for surrounding communities.
Mr. Strickland explained that Delaware Union, which was formerly known as the Central Delaware Soccer Association, had signed on as an anchor tenant. He stated that the Kent County Levy Court had agreed to lease the property for one dollar per year for 99 years. In addition, the project had obtained the necessary $24 million funding through loans, grants and bonds.
“The Frederica Grade Separated Intersection, part of the Corridor Preservation Program at DelDOT, is designed to correct safety issues and too keep traffic on Route 1 flowing,” explained Gregg Moore, member of the GreaterKent County Committee. “There is a rumor that this project was created because of the sports complex. Actually, this project was developed in the 1990s, and the complex was located at that location because of the proposed overpass.” Mr. Moore explained that the lease from Kent County Levy Court specifically requires that the overpass be in place before the complex is constructed. In addition, the banks who have offered financing have also required that the overpass be completed before funding the project.
“This was not a problem until DelDOT changed their priorities for projects,” Mr. Moore said. “Our project is now 98th on the priority list and the overpass at 10th Street is 70th on the priority list. There is no question that the 10th Street overpass is necessary for the safety of those who live in Woodshaven, but without the one at the complex, this project is on hold.”
Mr. Strickland said that their request to council was that they advocate on behalf of the project as it will benefit the Milford area. He stated that if the project does not get underway soon, other communities will move forward and the opportunity will be lost. He suggested that the Woods Haven community and the complex work together to try to get all the Kent County projects moved up on the DelDOT priority list.
“I think your project is great, don’t get me wrong,” Councilman Owen Brooks said. “But citizens of Woods Haven need to be able to get on the highway. Thompsonville has a light, and I can look out my window and see how backed up traffic is. Your project is great, but unless we can figure out a way to get all three overpasses completed, we have to push for the one at Woods Haven first.” Emmett Vennett, a resident of Woods Haven who has been an outspoken supporter of the overpass at Woods Haven, said that the overpass there was on DelDOT’s priority list as number 99 and that the sports complex was lower on the priority list.
“We support the construction of this complex, but I worry every time that fire whistle goes off that someone on Route 14 has not died,” Councilman Pikus said. “This is personal for me. It is a safety issue. If you are asking us to ask DelDOT to do all three of these overpasses at one time, they will laugh us out of chambers. You are talking about $100 million and that money is not there. If you have figured out a way to fight the New Castle County contingency for funding, you are doing something.” Mr. Strickland said that if all three groups worked together, they may be able to accomplish something, but by looking at the overpasses as competition, all three will fail.
“Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce and the State Economic Development Office are on board, have they contacted DelDOT with letters of support?” asked Councilwoman Katrina Wilson. Mr. Strickland explained that they had. “So you are just asking us to support you with a letter supporting the complex and ask the state to move forward with the overpass?” Mr. Strickland explained that would be very helpful. Councilwoman Wilson said she didn’t understand why council could not do that, stating that it would not mean they did not support the other overpasses. She felt that together the voices would be louder.
Commissioner Buckson explained that he was the one who requested the meeting with council and that he never intended for the project to become a competition with the overpasses designed for safety. “The issue changed when DelDOT changed their priority list and basically forced us to compete for infrastructure money,” Commissioner Buckson explained. “The question is whether this project has merit, and it does. We talk about wanting to put people to work and this project will do that. Somehow, we have to find the money.”
Councilman Pikus explained that it was not about loans, it was about federal and state funding that simply did not exist. Councilman Brooks pointed out that an overpass was proposed for 10th Street in the 1970s and that it had still not been built.“They have ignored these problems for that long and they aren’t going to pay attention now if we don’t work together,” Commissioner Buckson said. “We can work together and fight or we can simply sit back and let things continue. Working together, we have a voice. Alone, we do not.”