• KJWP NewsBreak
  • KJWP NewsBreak
  • KJWP NewsBreak

Progress on the massive indoor-outdoor sports complex on the south side of Middletown came to an abrupt halt last week when its owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The proposed $13 million Delaware Sports Complex was to feature 15 full-size grass fields for soccer, lacrosse or field hockey and 16 baseball diamonds. Also proposed was a 160,000-square-foot indoor facility with a World Cup-size indoor field and three hard courts.

Work on the complex, located on 319 acres of property at 955 Levels Road near U.S. 301 and the Maryland-Delaware border west of town, was started in 2015.

Six fields have been completed to date, as well as the beginnings of a parking lot. The town said it had installed infrastructure to provide irrigation to the fields, including pipes for wastewater. 

STORY: Drone racing comes to Dover’s Monster Mile

STORY: Dover councilman charged with DUI

According to court documents, Delaware Sports Complex LLC owes 13 creditors more than $2.2 million. The top claimants include Nichols Nursery Inc. (Newark), which lists $811,337 in unsecured claims; Van Cleef Engineers (Hillsborough, N.J.) is owed $205,483, and the Town of Middletown is owed $195,000.  

“We were led to believe the financing was there and everything was in place,” said Middletown Mayor Kenneth Branner. “It was a shot in the gut when we heard. We were players and partners in the project and now that has come to a complete stop.”

Branner said the Town of Middletown agreed to lease the land to Delaware Sports Complex LLC for $1 per year for 99 years.

He said that for the past 18 months, town officials have met with DSC representatives at weekly meetings on Thursday mornings. 

“They told us they were scheduling tournaments and were very adamant that things were going well,” Branner said. “But then about six months ago, we started getting reports of unpaid bills and we knew something wasn’t right.”

That prompted the Town of Middletown to file an eviction claim against DSC in court on March 17. The filing of the Chapter 11 petition stayed those proceedings, which were to occur May 25, just two days after the filing on May 23.

“We said they weren’t living up to the terms of the agreement we had with them,” Branner said. 

Other Middletown entities making the list of creditors include: MDR Golf ($105,500), Brian Ellis ($71,900), and the Delaware Revolution Soccer Club ($36,000).

Additional unsecured claims are: Summit Bridge Properties of Townsend ($54,995), Scott Lobdell of Townsend ($30,778), Saul Ewing LLP of Wilmington ($19,777), Liborio Watergate of Wilmington ($13,000), B&B High Tech Solutions, LLC of West Berlin, N.J. ($8,430), Landscape Architectural Services of Dover ($7,000) and Northern Tier Landscaping of Wilmington ($3,000).

Looking ahead

While the town of Middletown is in limbo with what it can do with the land until the bankruptcy hearings are completed, Branner believes there can and will be a positive outcome to the situation.

“Everything has stopped right now, but we want to remedy this as quickly as possible,” the mayor said. “There is no way we won’t go forward sometime in the near future.”

Branner said he has already received a number of calls from interested parties wanting to talk about the use of the town-owned land for similar projects. And while law prohibits the mayor from talking to these interested parties, he said he is confident that as soon as he is legally able, those discussions will take place.

STORY: Redeveloped Dover retail center could fetch $25M 

STORY: Appo school project will launch into space Thursday

“We believe in this concept,” Branner said. “We’ll put it out for RFP (request for proposal) as soon as we are able.”

Branner feels the bankruptcy filing is a mere bump in the road and is sure there will be a sports complex on Levels Road, one that will be similar in scope to that of the Delaware Sports Complex LLC plan. 

“Once this is resolved, we’ll go back and do another plan,” he said. “It will be something to enhance the community. That’s what we thought about the planned complex. The community totally supported it and I don’t think that will change.”

South on Del. 1 about 36 miles sits a reminder of how successful a sports complex with a similar concept can be.

DE Turf Sports Complex opened on April 1 and hosted its first, and perhaps largest, tournament of the young season on April 14-15. The “Shooting Star Easter Tournament” saw 84 U14, U16 and U19 field hockey teams with hundreds of players from around the Mid-Atlantic region competing at the complex. 

“The weekend was an absolute success,” said DE Turf Sports Complex Executive Director Chris Giacomucci. 

The $24 million complex features 12 multi-purpose synthetic turf fields that can be set up for soccer, lacrosse and other field sports. One of the 12 will be a championship stadium, with seating for about 700. Five fields feature lights and only the championship field will have seats and an electronic scoreboard. 

In the meantime, the Town of Middletown has to worry about standing water, weeds and tall grass overtaking the work that has already been done and general upkeep of the land.

“It could take a couple of months or a year, so we need to be thinking about that,” Branner said. “The grass is getting high, so something needs to happen out there.” 

Reach Jerry Smith at jsmith17@delawareonline.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JerrySmithTNJ.