Sportsplex Project
Posted on Wednesday February 05, 2020
Town Has Vision of Soccer Complex
Laura Douglass, Staff Writer for The Pilot
Dec 23, 2019 

Soccer Complex Rendering

Aberdeen’s new 32-acre park on U.S. 15-501 is a welcome addition to the area’s growing roster of sports facilities.

On Friday, town leaders closed the deal to purchase 15-acres for $150,000 with the Ransdell family contributing a 17-acre donation of adjacent land.

“Aberdeen is thinking very strategically. They are right on track,” said Bonnie McPeake, owner of McPeake Hotels.

McPeake, a board member and former chairman of the county’s Convention & Visitors Bureau has long advocated in favor of a new sports complex on U.S. 15-501, a facility that she and other supporters believe would generate additional income to area hotels and businesses, particularly during the slower off-season for golf.

In early 2015, a feasibility study was commissioned after the Ransdell family granted Moore County Partners in Progress a $1 option to buy 60 acres on U.S. 15-501 across from Legacy Golf Links. Early conceptual plans called for four youth baseball/softball fields that could be converted to long fields, two synthetic grass long fields and four natural-turf long fields. Organizers noted that other amenities could be added in the future.

Funding for the proposed facility, especially in the first few years of operations, hinged on the Moore County Board of Commissioners agreeing to double the occupancy tax from three percent to six percent on a hotel bill.

However, even within the CVBs ranks the project was controversial when representatives from Pinehurst Resort and Pine Needles, the area’s two most prominent golf resorts, said they would oppose any proposal that placed an over-weighted share of costs on local hotel and resort operators.

In October 2017, the sports complex project was delayed indefinitely by the county commissioners when they nixed the idea of increasing the room occupancy tax.

In recent months, county leaders have indicated some willingness to reconsider the tax rate once again next year. The CVB is developing a new “product development grant program,” where some of the additional funding would potentially be directed.

McPeake said she’s pleased that Aberdeen leaders are staking a claim with the new park property — a more modestly scaled version of the earlier plan.

“When I think about the sports complex and the opportunity we had for this county, the commissioners didn’t have the confidence for this county and they didn’t have the vision,” she said.

Just up the road in Asheboro, McPeake noted, a new 100-acre Zoo City Sportsplex is being developed with multiple outdoor playing fields. Once completed, it will be that city’s largest park and bring together a consortium of interested partners, including the Randolph-Asheboro YMCA and N.C. Zoo to promote the facility as a regional destination.

“I wonder what their leaders see that ours don’t? It speaks to the confidence you have in an area,” McPeake said. “Leaders need to look at how to bring revenue into an area to grow the tax base instead of just collecting taxes.

“Golf will always be strong. But it isn’t what it used to be. Instead of the husband playing golf, now you have families taking their child to a soccer tournament,” she added. “Families have changed and I think we, this area, need to change with the times.”

But while the county commissioners shot down the sports complex idea, they have invested in other new sports facilities at Hillcrest Park in Carthage. These include a splash pad and baseball field addition that opened this summer, and construction is underway on a new 22,000-square-foot recreation facility with two gymnasiums, conference room, classrooms and concession area.

“Sports tourism is on the rise. And when you look at these bookends — with Hillcrest Park and this new park in Aberdeen — we will have a great opportunity,” said Phil Werz, CVB president and CEO.

Werz said a big focus for the CVB in 2020 will be working with county officials on the proposed tourism development fund, and setting its guidelines. The subcommittee tasked with creating fund guidelines is led by Tom Pashley, president of Pinehurst Resort.

“If, and when, we increase the occupancy tax, we will have funds to produce grants for tourism-related expenditures to assist in development at these locations,” Werz said. “And these are the types of opportunities the CVB is looking for.”

Importantly, the overall goal is to ensure Moore County continues to evolve as a year-round destination. Werz said the U.S. Kids Golf Championships held each summer are a good example of how youth sports can supercharge the area economy, particularly during the off-season.

“This is part of our growing process. These types of sports complexes allow us to compete with other areas, especially because of how attractive this destination is already. It is just one more reason to bring more people here.”

Aberdeen Town Manager Paul Sabiston said clearing work on the new park will begin in January.

“We are excited,” said Marsha Ransdell Southers. “We want to see this move forward full steam ahead because we really need it. There are good things to come for the community.”

Sabiston said completing the project will require additional funding, and the town is working with community partners and individuals for donations, and also considering other revenue sources.

“The need for these fields has been around for a long time. I’m very proud of Aberdeen and its willingness to step forward and provide these fields for the whole community,” said Town Manager Paul Sabiston. “There is a lot of potential at this location and it will provide a good balance of facilities on that side of town.”

And whether or not the county decides to move forward with increasing the occupancy tax for overnight visitors, Sabiston said Aberdeen plans to keep all of its options open.

“We have not given up hope of creating our own entity, a town-managed tourism development authority to direct funds,” he said.
Town of Aberdeen NC | 115 N. Poplar Street, Post Office Box 785 Aberdeen, NC 28315
Phone: 910-944-1115
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