By Richard Sullins |

Almost three years after voters approved a bond referendum to create a multi-sports complex in Sanford, the search for a prime contractor to build the park just off the U.S. 421 bypass at Broadway Road is underway and a winning bidder to lead the $40 million project could be selected by mid-September.

County Manager Lisa Minter told the board of commissioners Monday that the documentation necessary for submission of a valid bid was made available to qualified pre-qualified contractors beginning on July 18. Sealed bids will be received until 1:30 p.m. on August 29, in the Finance Office of the County Administration Building.

Thirty minutes after that, the bids will be opened at the Bob Hales Center and read aloud, with the names of each firm and the amount of their bid recorded for presentation to the commissioners when they meet again after Labor Day. Interested companies who have pre-qualified may wish to attend an optional pre-bid conference on August 1 at 2 p.m., also at the Hales Center, to seek clarification or ask questions of the designer, the John R. McAdams Company.

How we got here

Selection of the contractor is a major milestone in moving the project forward, Minter said. Ideas for a complex that could host a variety of sporting events had been kicked around for at least five years before county commissioners put the proposal before voters in the 2020 election. Their proposal to raise $25 million in bond funding for the 120 acres was approved in nine of the county’s ten precincts with 58.59 percent of all voters being in favor of the project. The land where the complex will be located was acquired in 2021.

But the COVID-19 pandemic was still running out of control at that time, without vaccines or effective treatments, and before the project could gain any momentum of its own, it was hit again by the twin blows of runaway inflation and shortages in the supply chain that hit large construction projects like the multi-sports complex.

The cost of construction materials skyrocketed, and by the time McAdams was chosen to design the project in February of 2022, the estimated costs of building the showplace sporting complex the county had dreamed of had risen to $74 million – nearly triple what voters had authorized barely 18 months prior.

By August of 2022, inflation had begun to peak, and the commissioners paused the project for 30 days to reconsider their options. When the board met again in September, it approved a significantly scaled-down version of the initial plan.

That redesign cut the number of soccer fields from ten to six. The original layout had also included five baseball fields, playgrounds, walking trails, and a 300-seat baseball stadium that could have housed teams like the Sanford Spinners. Most of those had to be eliminated as well.

Community leaders had planned for the complex to serve as spot that could host regional competitions in soccer, baseball, and softball, as well as a place where the young and the old could find their own ways to keep fit. By drawing visitors regularly from outside the county, as well as families who had relocated to the area because of jobs created by new industries locating here, the hope was that restaurants, shops, and hotels would benefit Sanford and the county would each see increases in the taxes they collect.

It may be years before the full impact of shrinking the scale of the complex can be measured, but not everyone has given up hope. The redesign will allow for the items that had to be cut last year to potentially be built in future years if funds become available.

But with the selection of a prime contractor now just weeks away, those components of the original dream will have to wait for another day.

Park access from Broadway Road

Minter’s monthly report to the commissioners provides details about another key development with the project. It notes that the North Carolina Department of Transportation has provided preliminary approval for an access break on Broadway Road that will allow traffic to enter and exit the site from either direction.

The agreement is still subject to final approval once DOT and the county reach an agreement related to the monetary value of the break. It’s up to DOT to determine the estimated fees associated with creating a means of ingress and egress, and it has requested additional updates for the turning lane at the N.C. 42 intersection.

That’s important, because DOT will also require a developer’s agreement for the installation of a right-turn lane coming into the multi-sports complex into the existing widening project on Broadway Road. The agreement would spell out terms for DOT’s contractor to perform the work that would construct the turning lane, and the county would pay a fee for the work performed.

The Lee County Parks and Recreation Commission made recommendations for the names of roads that will go through the complex and their proposals were to have been considered by the commissioners Monday night. Instead, they were pulled from the agenda at the start of the meeting. Chairman Kirk Smith explained that some of the names appeared to be duplicates of roads that already exist elsewhere in the county and that there was at least once instance of a proposed name that had been misspelled.

Smith said that new names would be submitted to the commissioners for consideration at their next meeting in August.