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Deal to develop soccer complex in southeast Roanoke closes after years of work

Posted: Thursday, August 18, 2016 7:00 pm

By Matt Chittum [email protected] 981-3331

Roanoke Times>>

After four years of negotiations, bargaining with banks for financing, slow-moving government agencies and dragged out environmental testing, Roanoke’s Valley AFC soccer club finally closed the deal to buy the site for a planned $7 million soccer complex.

The nonprofit completed the purchase of the 30-acre site along the Roanoke River and 13th Street Southeast on Wednesday, and officials expect to get to work immediately developing a few fields for quick use. The club, which has about 3,000 youth and adult players, hopes ultimately to have 16 fields on the site. The cost of the land was $510,000.

Any number of new athletic fields are welcome in Roanoke, where consultants have told city parks and recreation officials that they need more than 20 additional fields to meet the community’s needs.

Valley AFC’s project will finally get underway as the Roanoke Star soccer club works toward opening six fields on land rented from the city on the former Countryside Golf Course site. Meanwhile, the city has long-term plans to replace low-quality grass fields on the old Victory Stadium on Reserve Avenue site with two artificial turf fields and other grass fields.

Andrew Gentiluomo, a Valley AFC coach and project manager for its soccer complex, said it required help from a mix of people to get to this point.

“A lot of people came with little chunks of magic,” he said.

Landowner sought industrial buyer first

The land was formerly owned by Roanoke Valley IDICO, a private organization formed decades ago to foster economic and industrial development. The group initially agreed to sell the site to Valley AFC nearly four years ago, then changed its mind first to sell it to a propane facility, which fell through, and then search for another industrial buyer.

When that didn’t happen, the owner agreed to sell the land to the soccer club. That was nearly a year and a half ago. The club hoped to close within a couple of months.

Since then, Gentiluomo said, the club struggled for a while to find financing for the purchase. Mainline banks weren’t interested because lending money to a nonprofit buying “unfinished” land seemed too risky.

He finally turned to Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, a former intern of his, for help. Rasoul referred him to Virginia Community Capital, a nonprofit community development lender based in Christiansburg, which agreed to finance the deal.

Environmental testing was final hurdle

Soon after that, the purchase was bogged down by environmental testing. Gentiluomo said a process they thought would take maybe five weeks and cost under $15,000 ended up taking four months and costing $38,000. A federal grant, facilitated by Roanoke officials, paid part of that cost, Gentiluomo said. The city kicked in funding for additional required testing and expedited results.

The all-clear came just two weeks before the club’s approved financing agreement was scheduled to expire, according to Gentiluomo.

The club hopes to have up to five fields ready for play by spring. Long term, Gentiluomo said, the facility can host the club’s growing tournament, which in its third year is hosting about 70 teams from Northern Virginia to North Carolina.

The club also has a major fundraising push ahead of it to raise the estimated $7 million it will take to complete it. Valley AFC already received some sponsorship money from Carilion Clinic that helped with the purchase of the land. Roanoke Star received a similar contribution from Carilion.

The new fields “support our mission of helping to improve healthier communities, especially when they benefit children and families in our community,” said Shirley Holland, Carilion’s vice president for planning and community development.

Will Trinkle is director of IDICO, which sold the land to Roanoke Valley IDICO a few years ago. His group owns adjacent land that Valley AFC has been leasing for practice fields.

About half the site is in a flood plain, Trinkle said.

“If you can’t build on it, what are you doing to do with it?” he said. The soccer complex, he said, is a great fit with Roanoke’s push to become an outdoors hub.

Trinkle, also president and CEO of CW Francis Real Estate, brokered the deal from start to finish but returned half of his commission to Valley AFC to support the project.

Staff writer Kylee Sapp

contributed to this report.

Valley AFC soccer club plans multi-million dollar complex

Author:  Khiree Stewart, [email protected]
Published On: Oct 15 2015 10:50:33 PM EDT

 

Roanoke Times Editorial

Our view: The past and the future

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Posted: Thursday, May 7, 2015 2:15 am

Take a good look at the picture above.

What do you see?

Here’s what we see: We see a perfect encapsulation of Roanoke’s past and future in the same image.

In the background, the smokestacks of the old American Viscose rayon plant, one of the economic mainstays in Roanoke until it shut down in 1958. In the foreground, kids playing soccer — a sport we suspect wasn’t being played in Roanoke in those days, but which is now coming to dominate the cultural landscape among American youth.

Staff photographer Erica Yoon took this photograph to accompany a story by reporter Matt Chittum about how the Roanoke Valley IDICO economic development group is selling a 35-acre industrial site along the Roanoke River in southeast Roanoke to the Valley AFC soccer club to develop into soccer fields.

That news story last week also had a lot to say about the valley’s past and its future.

We live in a part of the state where flat, developable land — the kind prized by economic development prospects — is hard to come by. So why is the Roanoke Valley IDICO (short for Industrial Development and Investment Co.) selling this land for soccer fields?

For one thing, nobody else wanted the land — and hasn’t for a long, long time. This is land that various economic development entities have owned since the 1960s.

Let’s say that again: The 1960s.

That’s when — in the wake of the twin shocks of the Viscose plant closing and the railroad converting from steam to diesel — there began a serious push to diversify the Roanoke Valley’s economy.

A push that, by the way, succeeded. Roanoke now boasts the second most diverse economy in the state, as measured by the financial services firm Moody’s. We could use more employers, to be sure, but at least we’re not dependent on a handful of them like we were in the days when those stacks at the Viscose plant were pumping out smoke. (Or was it merely steam?)

In any case, nobody ever wanted this land in the shadow of the Viscose plant. Well, one company did. In 2013, a Missouri energy company wanted to put a “tank farm” there. Neighbors in nearby Morningside objected, citing the safety concerns you’d expect people to raise when they hear talk of 360,000 gallons of propane and butane being stored next door.

The deal fell apart, and the land has continued to sit vacant.

Valley AFC wanted to buy the land then, but the Roanoke Valley IDICO was reluctant. A tank farm seemed a lot closer to its mission of industrial development than kids kicking soccer balls. But if nobody was going to ever buy the land? Better something than nothing, right?

And this something is also economic development, just in a very different way. The tank farm proposal would have created five jobs, and whatever tax revenue would have been generated from a tract now assessed at $226,800 — or $2,698 per year. (Of course, presumably the value would have gone up once the tanks were constructed.)

But where Inergy Services LLC was talking about investing $3.6 million to build a tank farm, Valley AFC is talking about spending $7.6 million to build a sports complex with 16 soccer fields. It figures soccer tournaments might generate upward of $20 million a year in spending from visiting teams and their parents.

That’s a very different way of looking at the economy, but there’s no denying that lots of money is spent on “travel soccer” — i.e. non-school sports clubs that travel all over to play games.

In effect, this is just another variant of the “cultural tourism” we see played out elsewhere — from Salem bringing in college sports championships such as the Stagg Bowl, to Rocky Mount’s recent investment in the Harvester Performance Center, which has generated $2.2 million of new spending in the town in just its first year.

As for how many jobs that creates, that’s harder to calculate — but certainly increased spending helps create some jobs and maintain others.

In any case, the Roanoke Valley IDICO had to weigh the prospect of doing something that might put $20 million into the local economy versus the phantom of an industrial prospect that has eluded the site for nearly six decades.

We’d be remiss, of course, if we didn’t point out something else that’s obvious: Soccer is not just the future. Soccer is the present.

Here’s how much the cultural landscape has shifted beneath us: In Roanoke, soccer now ranks ahead of baseball (for boys) and softball (for girls) combined in terms of rec league participants. Only basketball has more. Same for Salem. In fact, even in that football-crazy city, boys soccer alone is just barely behind football. When you add in girls soccer, the numbers go even higher. In Roanoke County, there’s a slightly different mix in rec league participation — baseball and softball are tops there, but soccer comes in second, just ahead of basketball.

By the time kids get to high school, kicking the ball (or heading the ball) wins out over batting it. The Virginia High School League counts more players in soccer than in any other sport — except track.

So when we look at that picture, we see a lot going on. Then again, they always said a picture is worth a thousand words. By that measure, we’re still a few hundred short.

Roanoke Times

Regional Soccer complex still coming to Roanoke

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Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 5:30 pm | Updated: 5:36 pm, Wed Apr 29, 2015.

By Matt Chittum [email protected] 981-3331

After nearly two years of fits, starts and finally a stall, Roanoke’s Valley AFC soccer club is on the brink of buying a 35-acre site in southeast Roanoke where it plans to develop a $7.6 million complex with up to 16 fields.

The club has a contract to buy the 35-acre parcel between 13th Street Southeast and the Roanoke River from Roanoke Valley IDICO, a private organization formed decades ago to foster economic and industrial development, and expects to close the deal this summer.

If that happens, a few fields on the site could be set up with limited effort and investment and be in use by the end of the year, Valley AFC officials say. Fully complete, the complex could generate $20 million a year in economic impact from a small number of tournaments, they said.

“It’s a perfect place for a soccer complex in so many ways,” said Steve Simon, president of Valley AFC’s board.

Flat, open spaces large enough for so many fields are almost nonexistent in the Roanoke Valley. That’s precisely why it took so long to convince Roanoke Valley IDICO to sell it. Such sites are also valuable for business development.

Valley AFC hoped to buy the land in 2013. The club had even agreed on a price with the owner — $575,000.

Roanoke Valley IDICO had acquired the land the year before, from IDICO, a separate group in which the former was a partner. Roanoke Valley IDICO got the property as part of a deal in which IDICO bought out its interest.

The belief at the time was that Roanoke Valley IDICO would in turn sell the land to Valley AFC, but there was no formal agreement. In the meantime, Inergy Services LLC had proposed a propane tank farm, along with a rail siding, for the site, and that offer was more attractive to Roanoke Valley IDICO, and more in line with the kind economic development the group was intended to foster.

The tank farm deal fell apart amid vehement protests from neighbors, but Roanoke Valley IDICO decided to try to find another industrial user before selling to Valley AFC.

“I think the feeling of the board was, let’s give it one more try,” said Jay Turner, president of Roanoke Valley IDICO. In the ensuing year or so, a few people looked at it, but no one made an offer.

“I think everybody appreciated the fact that it was going to be futile,” Turner said.

In the meantime, Valley AFC rented 5 acres adjacent to the site from IDICO and set up two practice fields there.

Andrew Gentiluomo, a leader with Valley AFC, said his club had stayed in touch with the owners and earlier this year decided to just make another offer. To their surprise, Roanoke Valley IDICO countered the offer and the negotiations were on. Neither side would divulge the sale price. The land is assessed for tax purposes at $226,800.

“I’m just really very happy that the soccer group is going to have it. The land probably lays better for that kind use than anything else,” Turner said. “It’s good for the city’s economy and it shows off the city.”

Some contingencies remain to be resolved, including financing and zoning.

The club, which is a nonprofit, has 1,800 to 2,300 players, Simon said. The club had revenue of more than $400,000 in 2012 according to publicly available tax records.

The land is zoned for industrial use, and Valley AFC could apply for a rezoning, but Roanoke’s planning staff is proposing a change to the city zoning ordinance that, if approved by the Roanoke City Council, would make recreation a by-right use in that zoning classification.

That would allow the sale to close this summer and work to develop a few fields on the eastern portion of the site to begin right away.

The club will also have to get to work raising $7.6 million to complete the full project, which features two artificial turf fields, a plaza, restrooms and locker rooms, and more than 400 parking spaces. The entrance would be from 13th Street, according to plan developed by engineering firm Draper Aden.

Club members will be asked to contribute a modest amount, Gentiluomo and Simon said, so they have a stake in the project, but donors will cover the bulk of the cost.

“The burden can’t be all on the players,” Simon said.

Valley AFC currently leases the Merriman soccer complex in Roanoke County. As fields are developed at the southeast Roanoke site, money spent on that lease can be redirected toward the project, Simon said.

Once the facility is able to host tournaments, it can be financially self-sustaining, he said.

Simon said one of the benefits of the move for Valley AFC is to build connections in the city, since it’s near downtown and the Roanoke River Greenway, and especially in the adjoining southeast neighborhood.

“It just expands the footprint of the club,” he said.

The additional fields, though private, will get some use on a lease basis, and will help address a dearth of athletic fields in the area, particularly the city.

According to industry standards, Roanoke Parks and Recreation Director Steve Buschor said, Roanoke’s population needs 18 more full-sized fields and three youth-sized fields to be fully served.

Even private fields help, because they take pressure off municipal fields, Buschor said. In Valley AFC’s case, that pressure will come off the fields they currently use in Roanoke County.

Still, Buschor called Valley AFC’s plans a plus.

“I don’t necessarily see it as a boon to us, but it is a boon to the economy and the community as well,” he said. “Anytime we get more places for kids to play, we like that.”

The city has its own plans to improve the quality of athletic fields on the former Victory Stadium site, including adding two artificial turf fields, to create an eight-field complex in the River’s Edge area.

But Buschor said the need for fields and tournament facilities is so great, he doesn’t view Valley AFC’s facility as competition.

The city could use more of its own fields, even with the addition of fields being developed at Countryside by the Roanoke Star soccer club, and Valley AFC’s plans.

“Then we’re starting to get really close to what this community needs,” he said.

Valley AFC to Build Regional Soccer Complex

Valley AFC Soccer Complex Press Release October 23, 2013


For Immediate Release

October 2013

VALLEY AFC TO BUILD REGIONAL SOCCER COMPLEX

Land Agreement Confirmed

Valley AFC confirms the long-term lease of approximately 4 acres of land from Industrial Development & Investment Company (IDICO) for the purpose of developing a world-class, community friendly, regional soccer complex. The proximity of this park-like phase-1 development will be adjacent to an additional 35 acres of developable land, the Roanoke River Greenway and within 1-mile of downtown Roanoke, Mill Mountain and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

This project underscores Valley AFC’s 30-year history of developing soccer programs for all ages, abilities and interest levels throughout the Roanoke Valley. The long-term vision for this exciting development is to yield multiple, high-quality playing fields and related facilities to be used for player development, games, regional tournaments and soccer camps. This is also a commitment to improving Roanoke’s quality of life by supporting youth activities that build character and encourage physical activity.

“In addition to the obvious benefits related to this unique green space project, the positive economic impact of a soccer facility of this quality and magnitude could yield millions of dollars annually for the local economy. Throughout the United States, well organized soccer tournaments held at similar facilities routinely attract hundreds of teams, multiple times throughout the year. It is anticipated that families will visit Roanoke from hundreds of miles away to enjoy our world-class soccer facility and the beauty of the Roanoke Valley, while also patronizing local hotels, restaurants and other regional tourist destinations”, says Valley AFC representative, Andrew Gentiluomo.

Valley AFC is fortunate to have partnerships with many entities, one being Roanoke County which maintains the Merriman Soccer Complex.  Valley AFC is extremely pleased with the support given to our recreational program by Roanoke County Parks & Recreation.

Valley AFC is proud of its 30-year heritage of developing soccer programs for Roanoke Valley youth of all ages, abilities and interest levels. We are a non-profit organization managed by an all-volunteer Board of Directors, a small team of Soccer Professionals, and supported by a terrific team of volunteers. We appreciate all of our volunteers, families and sponsors whose commitment allows us to offer programs such as, Recreational Soccer, Elite Travel Soccer, Indoor Soccer, Youth Development Academies, TOPSoccer® (for young athletes with disabilities), Camps and more.

For additional information or to schedule an interview with a Valley AFC representative, please contact Andrew Gentiluomo at 540.819.4321, or email [email protected].

WSLS

Regional Soccer complex still coming to Roanoke

Posted: Oct 24, 2013 9:44 AM EDT
Updated: Oct 24, 2013 9:44 AM EDT

Article Link>>

By Katie Love, Reporter - email

Andrew Gentiluomo with Valley AFC youth soccer club tells WSLS approximately 4 acres of land in southeast Roanoke will be used to develop a world-class, community friendly, regional soccer complex.

WSLS 10 Reporter Katie Love will be talking to Gentiluomo later today.

Roanoke Times

Group still plans southeast Roanoke soccer complex

The lease of land for a training field could help prove the viability of their plan, Valley AFC says.

by MATT CHITTUM | 981-3331

Thursday, October 24, 2013

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Roanoke’s Valley AFC youth soccer club is leasing space for a small training facility in southeast Roanoke in hopes of reviving an idled plan to build a 10-field complex on adjacent land.

The leased land is owned by IDICO, the same group that owns the Roanoke Industrial Center next door. It’s also next to a 30-acre parcel Valley AFC was negotiating to buy from a different company before a Missouri company proposed putting a propane gas tank farm and terminal on the land.

The lease of 4 to 5 acres from IDICO is “part tactical and part practical,” said Andrew Gentiluomo of Valley AFC. Practically, the 2,300-player club just needs more field space. While the leased site will offer room for just one full-size field and two smaller ones for players eight and under, Gentiluomo hopes it will also serve to show what can happen on that adjacent 30 acres. That’s the tactical part.

If Valley AFC can achieve its dream of developing a large soccer complex on the site, it would relieve pressure on numerous municipal fields the club currently rents, making room for other users, Gentiluomo said. Once fully developed, it could host tournaments that would be a powerful economic engine for the region.

“It becomes a truly regional destination,” Gentiluomo said.

Valley AFC was tantalizingly close to being on its way to that dream, according to Gentiluomo. The club was in long talks with the owner of the 35-acre parcel, Roanoke Valley IDICO, a separate group from the company that owns the land Valley AFC is leasing.

The parties had settled on a price — $575,000 — and Valley AFC was so confident the deal would happen it had prepared a news release, said Gentiluomo.

“We were at the altar,” he said.

Roanoke Valley IDICO acquired the land last year from IDICO. The former group had been a partner in the latter, and getting the 30-acre parcel was part of a deal in which IDICO bought out Roanoke Valley IDICO’s interest.

Will Trinkle, manager for IDICO, said the belief was that the land would then be sold to Valley AFC, though there was no formal agreement, and by the time the deal with Roanoke Valley IDICO was closed, it was apparent the sale to the soccer club was in trouble.

By then, Inergy Services LLC had proposed the propane tank farm, along with a rail siding, and Roanoke Valley IDICO decided to pursue that avenue instead.

“That was more in line for what we were established for originally,” said Jay Turner, board chairman of Roanoke Valley IDICO. “We would have gotten a better return on that, and also the land would have stayed on the city tax rolls” since Valley AFC is a nonprofit.

Ultimately the tank farm deal fell apart, too, amid vehement protests from neighbors.

Turner said his group has decided to try for another year or a little longer to market the land for industrial or commercial use. He believes it’s the only piece of land with the potential for a rail siding in the city, making it a precious commodity.

“We feel like we ought to give it one last shot to see if we can do what the organization was set up to do,” he said. After that, they could re-consider Valley AFC’s proposal. “We certainly haven’t shut the door on it.”

Gentiluomo argues the facility would be a boon for the localities and other clubs and sports that need field space. If Valley AFC has a permanent home, it would release space it currently uses for other teams.

The club uses up to 10 fields three hours a night almost every day of the week, he said. It spends its own money to maintain fields it doesn’t own at Roanoke County’s Merriman Road complex and the Salem VA Medical Center. They paid to have fields lighted at Merriman.

The debt service on the 30-acre parcel would be less than what the club is paying now in field maintenance, Gentiluomo said. Its remote location would hardly be a bother to players and their families who come from a 200-mile radius around Roanoke and are already spread over far-flung facilities, he said. It’s within a mile of downtown, he noted.

They’d begin with three to five grass fields, followed by a clubhouse, restrooms and concessions. Ultimately they would add a small stadium, likely with an artificial turf field and several other fields.

It would be a “top tier” facility, Gentiluomo said.

Four or five tournaments a year could pour from $10 million to $30 million into the region’s economy, he said.

Trinkle said his group supported the soccer facility idea, and still believes it would be a great use, and the lease of the smaller parcel to Valley AFC was part of that. He believes it can still happen.

“Cooler heads will prevail and people will see this is the best use for the property,” he said.

Gentiluomo and Valley AFC hope so, too.

“We have the girth, we have the financing, we can do it.”

Valley AFC Field Day: December 7th, 2013

On Saturday, December 7th, families were able to visit the new fields for the first time. Prior to Saturday, two 8v8 fields were made ready to play on.

Several scrimmages were held to "break in" the new fields.  These fields are part of Valley AFC's Phase I of developing a soccer complex.  Parents and players were amazed at the amount of flat land situated centrally in the Roanoke Valley just minutes from downtown Roanoke.  Xpress teams will begin training on these fields next spring.

It was an exciting day for Valley AFC and a step closer to having a soccer complex in Roanoke.