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June 28, 2012 10:06 PM

Sanford Sports Complex: A Sports Mecca

sioux falls, sd

It's being labeled a game-changing destination and soon the public will get a chance to begin using it.

From football and basketball to tennis and even ice events, the Sanford Sports Complex will begin bustling with the opening of the field house and the start of junior football in about two months.

To think what used to be an empty field on Westport Avenue between Benson Road and West 54th Street is now quickly on its way to housing these sporting events.

"We're only two months away from opening this facility,” Complex Executive Director Eric Larsen said. “There's a lot of work to be done yet. It's on schedule and we expect to be in the building by the first of September and have activities scheduled at that point. We're really excited about that."

The Field house is the first of many buildings going up at the complex and the 85,000 square foot facility will be home to the Sanford POWER Program, as well as the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute.

With a price tag of $8 million, Larsen says its uses are endless.

"Anything you can do on field turf on the inside, you're going to be able to do in there. We have ways of sectioning the field off for multiple users or we can do a full soccer tournament on the inside. There's 60,000 feet of field turf in there. It's a big piece of grass," Larsen said.

While the Field house may be the first to open, the headlining piece to the complex puzzle, the Pentagon, won't be too far behind. Construction is already underway with an opening set for the fall of 2013.

The Pentagon's main focus is basketball with the ability to host other sporting events. There will be a total of nine courts inside with the main "Heritage" court to be the new digs of the Sioux Falls Skyforce. And greeting everyone at the entrance will be the South Dakota Basketball Hall of Fame.

"They're excited about it. We're excited about having them there. We're excited about the tournaments that we're going to be able to bring to Sioux Falls, the level of competition that we're going to bring to Sioux Falls. It's just really going to help the youth around here to take their game to the next level," Larsen said.

And that's the theme out here.

In fact, South Dakota Junior Football will begin putting on games at these brand new fields this August. Thanks to all nine courts,16 more teams have been added and roster sizes have shrunk.

"Now we'll be able to cut down our team sizes to get back to maybe 20-22 kids on a team. What that does is gives each one of the participants more playing time and increases the value of the program to the kids and the families participating in the program," South Dakota Junior Football President Larry Leveranz said.

More than a decade ago, Leveranz and Company began raising funds to help make the fields a dream come true.

"To actually see it become a reality and us to be here and talking today is a pretty special time for our program and for the kids of Sioux Falls and the surrounding area that participate in our program," Leveranz said.

And several other groups are hoping their special time comes soon.
It's been well chronicled that the appetite for more ice in Sioux Falls is growing and that appetite could be satisfied with a new ice facility located at the complex. But some fundraising needs to be done first and the Ice Sports Association has taken that responsibility.

As for right now, some figure skating groups are putting a focus on off-ice training because there's not a lot of choices once the temperatures heat up.

"We are traveling to Luverne twice a week right now while their facility is open for ice training and for our practice, keep in mind this is for our practice,” ice complex supporter Deborah Geddes said. “I know lots of teams travel for games and matches, but this is for our practice where we have to go to Brookings, Sioux City, Luverne, the Cities to find practice time in the summer."

The Ice Sports Association is currently gathering private gifts for the ice facility and is 84 percent of the way to a $2 million goal. Once they make it, another $1 million donation will kick in and groups like Sioux Falls Figure Skating think it will be a quick ascent from there to the $7.7 million needed for Phase One. That includes the base facility which Geddes say can't get here fast enough.

"Our club and hockey, we're kind of at our max. We can't take on a whole lot more. We're growing and we're excited about that but it's a struggle because we don't have enough ice for both activities," Geddes said.

The I.S.A. hopes to raise funds in time to break ground in late 2013 not unlike a group campaigning for an indoor tennis facility to be built nearby. The Community Indoor Tennis Facility is projected to cost about $3 million and will house seven courts.

"Our facility would be a non-profit open to anybody in our community and the surrounding areas," tennis supporter Bill Townsend said.

Townsend says roughly $700,000 has been collected so far and he thinks this facility will open at the end of next year. Once it does, he expects several entities will want in right away and it will be another building that could help take youth sports and more in Sioux Falls to another level.

"Augustana and University of Sioux Falls, USD, SDSU, don't have any place to host their conference tournaments here locally that would have the number of courts that we would at the Community Indoor Tennis Facility," Townsend said.

From hosting conference tournaments all the way down to just a regular season junior football matchup, the Sanford Sports Complex should offer plenty of options and if you can believe after all that, it's still just the beginning.

"We want this to be a destination stop for people. When they come for a tournament they can spend their whole day here or people from Sioux Falls can come out and watch some of these events and have a great day," Larsen said.

In addition, plans are in the works for a hotel and restaurant to open along with the Pentagon in the fall of 2013.

Down the road, space will be used for retail and also office buildings on the site.

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