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Constructing a large sports facility in the hustle and bustle of downtown must be all the rage these days.
As the Philadelphia 76ers push forward a $1.3 billion proposal to construct a stadium in Center City, 44 miles away in the city of Coatesville, a different developer is working on a similar $50 million project.
IDG Development LLC is set to build a multi-purpose sports and events complex called the National Sports and Events Center (NSEC) on 26.3 acres of commercial property on West Lincoln Highway. The site was formerly known as the Flats.
“All of these amenities and different uses for it is just going to be a tremendous asset for the city of Coatesville,” City Manager James Logan said.
Home to more than 13,000 people and the longest operating steel mill in the United States, Coatesville was once a booming industrial town. However, steel industry changes in the mid-1900s led to a 60-year period of population decline and economic decay.
Now, it appears things are starting to turn around in Coatesville.
There are currently 34 active development projects in Coatesville, including the heavily-anticipated Coatesville train station scheduled to open in 2025.
Elected officials and leaders of Chester County’s only city have branded this recent era of growth as a period of revitalization and redevelopment. Many see the construction of the National Sports and Events Center as a way to put Coatesville back on the map.
“We’re just kind of behind on the times and we’re finally starting to come out of the shadow of other communities that have made it — communities like West Chester, Malvern, Paoli, Manayunk and parts of Philly, Phoenixville. So I think we’re starting to see our day in the sun and it feels great,” Logan said.
The company behind the sports center project debuted its plans in March 2021.
In addition to sports and events spaces, the center would have an indoor velodrome, which the company says is a “first” on the east coast. Their goal is to have the bicycle track be a hub for Olympic-level competition. Crosby Wood, a project manager for IDG Development, said he believes that cycling is the “secret sauce” that gives this project wheels.
The project also includes a supportive retail space, a sports medicine provider, and a 150-room hotel.
Beyond all of the professional sports and events aspirations, Wood said, the project will have an impact much closer to home.
“The Boys and Girls Club has committed to bringing a clubhouse to the facility that is 15,000 square feet. That’s a critical component as we look to bring the next generation of Coatesville and Chester County residents into the facility to be able to be exposed to all the different activities throughout the facility,” Wood said.
Coatesville City Council passed a resolution in April 2021 in a 6-1 vote approving the sale of the property owned by the Coatesville Redevelopment Authority to the company.
Nydea Graves is a former council member and the lone dissenting vote against the project. Citing her family’s more than 100-year history in Coatesville, Graves said that the main intention behind her “no” votes was her desire for Coatesville to be a thriving community “for the people who already exist in the community.”
“We deserve to have parks and sports centers with us considered not like thinking about who can come in, who we’re bringing in, but really about what is the community who already exists, and how can we meet their needs,” she said.
Graves said that while she is supportive of the city’s revitalization efforts, she believes that the National Sports and Events Center is a “gentrifying project.”
“To me, I think it’s one of the first in a big step in bringing in more air quotes, ‘more desirable community members,’ and then piping out members of the community that have been there — have gave Coatesville its staple charm and culture,” Graves said.
She wants the focus to be on rental control and raising wages in the city, so that people can continue to afford to live in Coatesville.
Logan said he doesn’t want Coatesville residents to be in a situation where they are “priced out of the market.”
“We are not going to just relax, because we’re seeing some uptick in development. We have to be very vigilant in making sure that we’ve balanced things,” Logan said.
Recently, state legislators have worked to secure additional funding for the contract. On July 19, the Commonwealth Financing Authority approved $3.6 million in state grant funding and a $5.4 million loan. The money came by way of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Business in Our Sites Program and it will go towards site preparation, construction, and administrative costs, among other things.
In a joint statement announcing the funding, state Sen. Carolyn Comitta and state Rep. Dan Williams applauded the venture for bringing job opportunities and investment to the city of Coatesville.
“The Flats site has been eyed for redevelopment for years. It’s an ideal location to build upon the city’s steel heritage with an economic boost that will both attract visitors and bring new opportunities to city residents,” Comitta said.
The developers believe that their idea offers more sustainability than previously proposed projects. IDG Development estimates the National Sports and Events Center will bring more than 300 jobs to Coatesville and upwards of $20 million after year three of operation.
“This is why we created NSEC — to establish a project that would be supported financially by the region, but would benefit the community through economic impact and job creation. So that’s really what we’ve done. And that’s in large part why we feel that we’re getting all the political support, because of all the residual value that goes along with this type of project,” Wood said.
Right now, developers are focusing on infrastructure design and financing as well conducting traffic studies ahead of completing the schematics for the project.
IDG Development plans on beginning construction by the end of 2023. The goal is to cut the ribbon on the National Sports and Events Center towards the end of 2024.