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August 1, 2022

Entrepreneurs turn from safer investments, career options to pursue ambitious sports-focused mixed-use development in Windsor

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Vincent DiCarlo is building a 95,000-square-foot sports dome on a former tobacco field off Day Hill Road in Windsor.
HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Vincent DiCarlo is building a 95,000-square-foot sports dome on a former tobacco field off Day Hill Road in Windsor.

Vincent DiCarlo shuttered his home-based marketing business three years ago, devoting his time and energy into building a 95,000-square-foot sports dome in a former tobacco field off Day Hill Road in Windsor.

His wife Cheryl, a creative director with ESPN, carries the household bills. DiCarlo works on designs, marketing, wooing investors, chasing bankers and numerous other steps needed to launch the roughly $14 million development.

Ground was finally broken this spring on the Day Hill Dome following more than a year of COVID-19-related delays. Today, the footprint of the future 82-foot-tall structure can be seen in a field of concrete and drainage structures. DiCarlo aims to finish in December.

Developer Mark Greenberg stands in a Windsor field that he hopes to turn into a mixed-use sports destination with hotels, restaurants, retailers and more ball parks.

His dome project is a key feature in developer Mark Greenberg’s vision for a sports-anchored mixed-use development on more than 150 acres he has stitched together, parcel by parcel, off Day Hill Road since 2006.

Greenberg said thousands of people already visit 11 on-site softball fields run by Fastpitch Nation every weekend. The dome and plans to add additional fields will draw even more.

Those crowds will feed hotels, restaurants, retail, entertainment and other amenities planned for Greenberg’s property assemblage along Day Hill Road.

In turn, the amenities will make the privately-run sports facilities more attractive for tournaments and other events.

Like DiCarlo, Greenberg and several entrepreneurs drawn to the site have turned from safer career and investment options to pursue their passions. And they are of the mindset that if they build out their vision, people will come.

Field of dreams

Standing in a field of waist-high grass at one end of his Windsor properties, Greenberg acknowledged it would have been much easier, and quite possibly more lucrative, to sell his land for warehouse development. Windsor and surrounding towns have been the center of a logistics boom over the past decade.

“I don’t want that,” Greenberg said. “It’s not all about the money. This is about a passion for athletics. This is my athletic dream.”

Greenberg said his vision began to form three years ago after he leased land at 1001 Day Hill Road to Fastpitch Nation, which built 11 softball fields.

Greenberg said tournaments bring in players and families from up and down the East Coast.

“Once I saw Fastpitch was successful and I came down on weekends and saw the tremendous number of people at the games, I thought this could be something we could expand to the rest of the property,” Greenberg said.

According to an analysis for the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau by Destinations International, visitors over the past year to Fastpitch Nation generated $11.2 million in regional spending, including 8,555 hotel nights, along with visits to restaurants, retail and elsewhere. That resulted in an estimated $742,039 in taxes for the state.

Shortly after Fastpitch Nation opened its Windsor fields in 2019, DiCarlo was introduced to Greenberg by Richard Correia, executive vice president with brokerage firm RM Bradley. DiCarlo had called Correia for help finding a location for his sports dome.

In a meeting at a Dunkin’ Donuts, DiCarlo and Greenberg bonded over the common experience as parents of athletes. Both had traveled to less-than-ideal facilities. Both had fallen asleep in their cars during long practices. Both had traveled out of state to facilities far removed from restaurants and hotels.

Greenberg also introduced DiCarlo to David Rocha, owner of Fastpitch Nation.

“When he started telling me about how good he’s doing here and how it was a home run – excuse the pun – I was like, ‘OK Mark, this is something we have to do,’ ” DiCarlo said. “There’s a great synergy and when you start talking about hotels and restaurants and brewpubs and things like that … you really can’t find something like this. It’s really unique. It’s really special. It’s a passion if you will. We are really chasing a dream.”

Dreams don’t come easy

By the time DiCarlo met Greenberg, he had already planned to shutter his home marketing business, abandoning a six-figure annual salary to realize his dream. Since then, DiCarlo has emptied his savings and retirement accounts. The sports dome was a hard sell to banks, especially with all the headlines about COVID-19 crushing youth sports.

DiCarlo and Rocha say private facilities, however, thrived through the pandemic. When public programs closed, parents looked for alternatives.

Ultimately, Greenberg became a partner with DiCarlo in the Day Hill Dome, committing $2 million of his own and helping to convince bankers to loan the rest. DiCarlo and Greenberg say funding is in place.

Supply chain problems have created uncertainty as to when some building materials will arrive. Even so, customers are already putting deposits down for whenever the dome opens.

“Pre-bookings for the dome have been out of control, better than our best possible imagination,” Greenberg said.

The Day Hill Dome’s first phase will include a roughly five-acre field of solar panels to help defray energy costs. There will be a single grass outdoor field and two artificial turf fields. The facilities will take up about 21 acres, Greenberg said. A second phase — occupying 15 acres — will include four more fields and an enclosed field house for hard-court sports like basketball and volleyball, Greenberg said.

Hotels, restaurants and more

There are two hotels planned for the site.

Windsor officials have signed off on a 110-room, Home 2 Suites hotel on 3.5 acres Greenberg sold to Groton businessman Jimmy Patel.

Patel said he expects to spend up to $14 million on the hotel, hopefully breaking ground late this year and finishing within 14 months. Patel already owns five hotels in the Groton area and is impressed with the crowds drawn to Fastpitch Nation, he said, adding he likes the concept of the dome. He is also motivated by growth of warehouses, housing and other recent developments along Day Hill Road, as well as proximity to Bradley International Airport.

“It makes sense to build a hotel with all those corporations and leisure and everything going on right there,” Patel said.

Daniel Lim, of Weston, is partway through Windsor’s approval process for a 93-room budget hotel planned for a portion of the Greenberg assemblage. The Wyndham-affiliated franchise offers smaller-than-average rooms with typical amenities at bargain prices.

Lim said she imagines her $10 million hotel will cater to business travelers coming from Bradley, as well as families visiting the Day Hill Dome or Fastpitch Nation. She hopes to break ground by the end of this year and finish building within 18 months.

Lim said she and her husband have partnered with an aunt on the investment. She also said she left a comfortable career as a Wyndham executive to pursue the business.

“I had just received a promotion and absolutely loved what I did,” Lim said. “We even uprooted our family from Colorado just to begin this new chapter. Owning a hotel has always been the dream. We had a chance to make it a reality, so we had to take it. It will no doubt be one of the hardest things we will take on.”

Greenberg said he also plans to recruit a high-end convenience store and two freestanding restaurants.

He is also wooing retail and restaurant businesses to a 106,568-square-foot commercial building at 1001 Day Hill Road. The building is part of a 55.7-acre site that was once home to Mototown USA.

Mototown featured an enormous, enclosed motocross track until a heavy snow load collapsed the roof in 2011. The building standing today was all that was salvaged.

Greenberg claimed the property in 2013 through what he described as a “friendly” foreclosure on Mototown’s original $15 million mortgage.

Greenberg bought the mortgage for $1 million in 2012.

1001 Day Hill Road in Windsor will soon host a new brewery and a potential “dodge-bow” extreme sports business.

Today, the building at 1001 Day Hill Road hosts a Blimpie Sub Shop and Vietnamese restaurant. A 16,500-square-foot brewpub is currently under construction. Greenberg is courting a “dodge-bow” extreme sports business to occupy 10,000 square feet in the building. The game is akin to a mix of paintball and dodgeball played with arrows tipped with rubber balls.

Greenberg said he spent $3.3 million acquiring and upgrading 1001 Day Hill Road and is currently working on an additional $1.5 million in parking and façade improvements.

Greenberg said he is also working on plans to build a 100-unit mixed-use apartment development on a parcel close to his 150-acre assemblage. He said the project isn’t advanced enough yet to release further details.

Rocha, who left IBM in 2008 to launch Fastpitch Nation, said he knows Greenberg could have made more money with another tenant, but the vision to create a destination sports complex became a passion play for the savvy developer.

“When I met with him and explained my dream, he had valuable land he could have easily converted into much higher value for someone else, especially at the rate they’re building warehouses in Windsor,” Rocha said. “If his motive was purely profit, there is no way he would have worked out a deal with me.”

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