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February 6, 2023

Recreational sports facilities sprout in Greater Hartford

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Vincent DiCarlo is building the Day Hill Dome in Windsor on a former tobacco field. When completed, it will feature more than 150 acres of year-round indoor and outdoor field access, a restaurant and brewery.

Connecticut has a number of venues for watching live sporting events like Rentschler Field, the XL Center, Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Dillon Stadium and Gampel Pavilion.

Recreational sports facilities — for those who prefer to be part of the action — are playing catch-up.

Several new arenas and venues are popping up throughout the state, particularly in Greater Hartford, where they are being touted as economic development tools that spur other mixed-use projects including hotels, restaurants and retail.

Building on his success from summer sessions in Windsor and Middletown, Arrow Dodge owner Robert Goldberg is poised to open a permanent sports-action venue in New Hartford this spring.

Arrow Dodge — a popular archery game that blends dodgeball, archery and paintball — will be offered along with other action sports in a new 2,000-square-foot indoor playing field within a 3,500-square-foot building, and on outdoor fields that host individuals, small groups and leagues.

The property is also home to Root to Rise yoga and Main Stream Canoe, which offers paddle boarding and tubing on the Farmington River.

It’s all part of the new Puddletown Adventures that Goldberg owns with Myra Emerick at 186 Main St., in New Hartford.

Goldberg said he worked in the bar industry for 15 years, running Bar Rated Entertainment trivia games.

Following COVID-related lockdowns, many people are looking for new forms of activity and entertainment outside of clubs, bars and theaters, he said.

He said these types of adventure games offer social activities in a fun and not-too-crowded setting.

Last summer, he set up Arrow Dodge games at the Vale Sports Club in Middletown and Fastpitch Nation softball fields in Windsor, where other games — from amateur to professional — are also played.

Next door to Fastpitch, former marketing professional Vincent DiCarlo is building the Day Hill Dome on a former tobacco field. When completed, it will feature more than 150 acres of year-round indoor and outdoor field access, a restaurant and brewery.

Windsor Economic Development Director Patrick McMahon said youth and recreational sports facilities have become big business.

According to the Sports Events and Tourism Association, there was $39.7 billion in direct spending impact from amateur and youth sports tourism in 2021.

In addition to Fastpitch and Day Hill Dome, Windsor is home to indoor volleyball and ninja training facilities, and six existing hotels with a combined 946 rooms that cater to the sports centers.

“The infusion of sports-related usage has been very helpful for their success,” McMahon said of the hotels.

Two additional hotels with a combined 201 rooms have been approved adjacent to Fastpitch Nation, “so that clearly indicates how much of an economic driver the use is,” he said.

New partner

The Windsor facilities could get some neighboring competition from a developer who is eyeing Enfield’s sprawling 65-acre MassMutual campus for a large-scale indoor/outdoor sporting venue.

The MassMutual plan — pitched by Andy Borgia from Fast Track Realty, and Anthony Ardolino from All Sports Village — includes 11 sports fields, a 1,600-space parking garage, hotel, retail space, restaurants, a family entertainment center like Dave & Buster’s, and new basketball, tennis and pickleball courts, among other features.

The project overview of a large-scale indoor/outdoor sporting venue proposed for MassMutual’s former 65-acre campus in Enfield.

Ardolino said All Sports Village’s mission is to improve and enhance sports and recreation in the area for youths and adults.

A new campus has the potential to bring 3,000 participants daily in peak months, and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact to Enfield, said Ardolino, who pitched a similar project in neighboring Windsor Locks before the pandemic.

Ardolino said the landowner in Windsor Locks “unfortunately wasn’t a willing participant,” which contributed to that project not moving forward.

“I think we have a great partner in MassMutual,” he added.

Enfield Town Manager Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said the MassMutual plan “is an exciting and innovative project that has far-reaching implications for Enfield and the region.”

MassMutual had been one of Enfield’s top 10 taxpayers for several years. The $22-million assessed value for the company’s former three-building campus is a sharp drop from the previous grand list, she said.

Repurposing these large office buildings into productive sites “will help stabilize the tax revenues and the parcel’s property values at a time when it has already been dropped by almost $10 million in the last revaluation,” she said.

Additionally, there are dozens of part- and full-time jobs that will benefit different segments of the population.

Thousands of visitors will shop and dine in the area, stay in hotels and visit nearby attractions like casinos, Six Flags amusement park, and the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., Zoppo-Sassu said.

‘Robust’ sports market

Meantime, Vale Sports Club, with a 35,000-square-foot facility in Middletown for dodgeball, soccer, Arrow Dodge, volleyball and Ultimate Frisbee games, is expanding.

Owner Zach Eddinger plans to lease a 22,000-square-foot sports complex that’s planned to be built at 500 Four Rod Road in Berlin. It will be mainly used for basketball.

Berlin Economic Development Director Chris Edge said these facilities offer an extra incentive for visitors to check out his town, and could even entice prospective residents.

Robert Murdock, president of the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau, said he recognizes the recreational sports market is growing, a trend that likely came to a head during the pandemic, when many restrictions were placed on indoor activity, including gyms.

There is also a post-pandemic urge to meet up in person. With more people working from home, getting up and away from the desk is driving more people to sports facilities, Murdock said.

“The sports market is very robust,” he said.

Murdock said he’s seen a push for new or expanded sports sites, and he has a growing list of smaller-scale recreational facilities to promote.

“People want to be out, living their lives, and there’s an even stronger demand for space than there was before and it’s encouraging people to build new facilities,” Murdock said. “They are raising the quality of life for towns and their residents.”

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