Before the year is out, athletes in Wake County will have a new playing field: a campus where they can perform gymnastics or figure skate, play volleyball or soccer, get specialized training or watch the Carolina Hurricanes practice.
The Western Wake Competition Center, off the still-under-construction McCrimmon Parkway extension in Morrisville, is the brainchild of local developer Jeff Ammons.
On a sunny day this spring, Ammons was showing off a just-completed soccer field, one of two on the campus, and pointing out the progress: construction workers crawling all over the building that will hold Superior Gymnastics and the Athletic Lab; the just-delivered steel for the facility that will house two ice rinks (one with 1,500 seats for spectators so it can host figure skating tournaments), the ’Canes practice facility, a restaurant, a pro shop and, on the second floor, rooms for corporate meetings, yoga classes, birthday parties and, possibly, a middle school and high school.
“I’m just sort of dreaming on it,” Ammons said of the schools. “Other places have them. …The idea is that you could come to school here and play volleyball from 7 to 9, go to class for a couple of hours, lunch break, do your skating, do your working out, whatever. It sounds crazy to people who don’t necessarily have kids in it, but what I like to tell them is: A lot of people do this now. They’re taking them to their private school, and they’re taking them to their athletic thing. All I’m really doing is putting them in one place.”
Ammons admits that other developers question whether a sports campus is the “highest and best use” of the land. His dad, also a developer, wonders about the wisdom of a soccer field on the road frontage.
Ammons’ answer? “It looks really good.”
He acknowledges a bank or a hotel would command more rent, then adds: “That doesn’t make it special, like what we have.”
While the $25 million project is not without risk, Ammons isn’t flying blind. He built The Factory, a similar — and successful — facility in Wake Forest. He also owns Raleigh Center Ice, where the ’Canes now train, and the Polar Iceplex on Raleigh Boulevard. He says western Wake County is ripe for a one-stop shop for youth sports, especially one with ice.
“If you look at the rinks in the Triangle, this entire area was just devoid of that,” he said. Ammons expects the rinks will draw families from Durham and Chapel Hill, too.
Morrisville drew his attention when the town offered to help him apply for, and win, a $3 million grant available through Wake County’s hospitality tax.
And then, there was the site’s proximity to the interstate and Raleigh-Durham International Airport, perfect for a campus that will host tournaments that draw athletes from outside the state.
Morrisville Mayor TJ Cawley thinks the campus will increase awareness of the town, which is becoming known for niche sports such as rock climbing, cricket, badminton and table tennis. “We’re about health and wellness in Morrisville, and this is a good fit,” he said.
Cawley has already attended one volleyball tournament that brought in more than a 1,000 people, and says the numbers visiting will continue to climb as the other facilities open. “This is going to bring in a lot of people and become a destination for the region,” he said.
For the volleyball building, Ammons worked with Sherry Fadool, executive director of the Triangle Volleyball Club, which runs the facility. In addition to club practices and games, the club holds summer camps and is a host site for the Carolina region of USA Volleyball.
Fadool says the club’s old home, a modified warehouse, had served them well, but here each of the eight courts are three feet wider, giving an outside hitter more room. The windows are situated so there’s never a glare in a player’s eyes, the orthopedic subfloor has about 30,000 shock absorbers to reduce injuries, and sound proofing makes it easier to focus. She points out the trainers’ room, accessible from courts on each side of the building, and the upstairs viewing area for spectators.
“We knew it would be nice,” Fadool said. “We didn’t know it would be so beautiful.”
Ammons says that has been his goal: really nice facilities designed to accommodate youth and amateur sports. “I felt like almost never do you see an amateur youth sporting facility built with that purpose from the first day,” he said.
Each venue has a different arrangement. Superior Gymnastics, which will open this summer, will run the gymnastics facility. The ice rinks, when they open in November, will be managed by Polar Ice Houses. But Wake Competition Center staff will manage the soccer fields. The North Carolina Football Club has bought time, and Ammons says the Raleigh Flyers ultimate frisbee team will play there, too.
He expects families to make a day of it.
“So many families usually have more than one active kid, so whatever the sport is they can come here and do it. … The idea is that people will pick up food, tailgate and just hang out.”
And if you don’t see your sport, just wait a bit.
Ammons has five acres he could still develop and adjoining property under contract. “All the spaces here are full,” he said, “but I’m hearing from basketball and squash.”
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