Plans for sports facility in NL revived

New London - A 60,000-square-foot regional sports facility at the former Edgerton School site first formally proposed by developer Peter Levine a year ago is back on the drawing board.

Levine said he is in discussions with Chelsea Groton Bank about providing funding for the Whaling City Fieldhouse project and has commissioned a feasibility study to be done by Sports Facility Advisory of Clearwater, Fla. He also has signed on Old Lyme businessman John S. Johnson, owner of the Gallery at Firehouse Square, as a partner in the deal.

"I'm all in," Levine said during an interview at the Washington Street Coffeehouse. "The city has expressed strong interest in working with me to make this project a reality."

Levine said the feasibility study should be completed within the next two to three weeks. If consultants decide the sports facility will likely succeed and financing can be lined up, Levine said his group will proceed with planning and zoning approvals in hopes of clearing all initial hurdles by October.

Levine's development group Amber Properties bought the 4.3-acre site at the corner of Colman Street and Cedar Grove Avenue four years ago. At the time, a sports facility was one of the top possibilities for the site, and, though he has entertained thoughts of other business uses along the way, the fieldhouse idea has been the one to gain the most traction and is an approved use, he said.

If all goes well, demolition of Edgerton School should be completed by the end of the year, he said, since an environmental report indicates there is only limited asbestos remediation required. Levine hopes to complete the project by July 2015.

"There's been tremendous interest expressed by a wide range of potential users," Levine said.

He said athletic directors of Connecticut College, Mitchell College, The Williams School and the Coast Guard Academy already have been informed about the project, which will allow for sports practices and training ranging from soccer to lacrosse to football and the possibility of volleyball.

He envisions local youth, high school and college teams and leagues using the facility, but it also could house trade shows, parties, weddings, camps and corporate events.

Construction of the air-supported dome structure would be undertaken by Air Structures American Technologies Inc. of Rye, N.Y., which Levine described as a world-class manufacturer of sports arenas. Levine said he and Johnson have started the process of finding a potential facility manager.

The nearest similar facilities are in Farmington, Tolland, East Windsor and North Branford. Smaller indoor practice areas are located at Work Out World in Waterford and at Summit Fitness & Sports in Norwich, but Levine said the Whaling City Fieldhouse's projected 400,000 annual visits would far outstrip any other local facility.

"There really is no first-class facility in essentially a 50-mile radius of New London," he said.

Levine has taken on several major development projects in New London over the years, including the renovation of an office complex on Howard Street that he eventually sold to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, conversion of the former Southern New England Telephone Co. building on Washington Street into apartments and redevelopment of the former United Electric building on Washington Street.

Levine said a few zoning issues still need to be addressed, but he was hopeful about getting all the necessary permissions. He added that the partners have begun the process of looking for a facility manager.

l.howard@theday.com

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