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Sports complex pitched for NL

By Lee Howard

Publication: The Day

Published 02/27/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 02/26/2013 10:24 PM

Whaling City Field House would be at site of former school

New London - Developer Peter Levine is proposing to build a 60,000-square-foot regional sports facility at the former Edgerton School site, an air-supported dome structure with an Astro Turf playing field that he says would be one of the finest facilities in New England.

The $4.65 million Whaling City Field House project, for which Levine is seeking an equity partner to help provide financing, also would include a separate 6,500-square-foot administrative building that might contain offices, conference and party rooms as well as space for a food operator and other vendors.

"It's perfect for the location," Levine said of the site at the corner of Colman Street and Cedar Grove Avenue. "It's going to be a first-class facility, and there are limited market alternatives."

The field house would be long and wide enough to host a football game or soccer competition, but it would not contain seating, Levine said in an interview at 2 Wives Brick Oven Pizza. He envisions the sports complex being used essentially as training and practice facilities by local youth, high school and college teams and leagues, but it also could house trade shows, parties, weddings, camps and corporate events.

Levine, who previously had proposed workforce housing and a commercial building on the 3.3-acre site but abandoned those plans because of economic conditions and local opposition, said there isn't a public sports facility like it within a 40-mile radius.

"It should generate substantial tax revenues for the city," Levine added. Levine, who is sole owner of the New Rochelle, N.Y.-based firm Amber Properties LLC, is no stranger to major development projects in New London. Over the past 15 years, he has renovated the 194 Howard St. office complex that he sold last year to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, converted the former Southern New England Telephone Co. building on Washington Street into apartments and redeveloped the former United Electric building that now houses 2 Wives restaurant, Washington Street Coffee House and Monte Cristo Bookshop.

This is not the first proposal for a sports complex in New London. Four years ago, former City Councilor Michael Buscetto III said he hoped to build a multi-use sports complex on Howard Street, but the plan didn't get much beyond the talking stage.

Buscetto, who dropped his sports facility plan because of time constraints, said Tuesday that he wished Levine well with his proposal.

"There will not be just New London people using it; I think it will end up being a regional facility," Buscetto said. "It will be great for the economy."

Levine said his proposal meshes well with the possibility of building a community center at the adjacent city-owned Morgan Park, formerly known as Veterans Field.

"It would be a game changer," he said. "It would be a facility that nobody has."

The sports facility, which would require the demolition of the former Edgerton School, is expected to generate about $1.5 million in revenues in its first year and stabilize at about $2 million in annual sales. Levine estimated a minimum of 500,000 annual visits.

He has yet to commission a market study, but Levine is estimating an overall economic impact of about $5 million a year from the facility, including food, beverage and lodging revenues.

"That's a pretty big multiplier," he said.

Levine said he is seeking $3 million in debt financing and about $1.5 million from an investor who would become an equity partner. The sports complex is allowed under city zoning, though a special permit would be required from the Planning & Zoning Commission, he said.

Levine said he expected an application will be submitted before Memorial Day and hoped for a completion date by March 2014. The builder would be Air Structures American Technologies Inc., which Levine described as the world's premier builder of air-suspended structures.

Levine's chief competition, according to his written project description, is the Work Out World facility in Waterford, which has an attached indoor soccer field, as well as the CT Sportsplex in Branford, Oakwood Sports Center in Glastonbury, Farmington Sports Arena in Farmington, Star Hill Center in Tolland and Sports World in East Windsor.

Levine said he has had preliminary discussions with city officials, who have expressed interest in assisting him with the project.

"As the planning process proceeds, I will also meet with representatives of the local community," he said.

l.howard@theday.com

PROPOSED SPORTS COMPLEX

Name: Whaling City Field House

Developer: Amber Properties LLC

Address: 120 Cedar Grove Ave., New London

Dimensions: 160 feet wide, 370 feet long, 40 feet high

Parking: 120 spaces, plus bus parking

Proposed builder: Air Structures American Technologies Inc.

More information: email Peter Levine at plevine@amberpropllc.com

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