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The Northeast: America’s Sports Playground

7 Jan, 2015

By: Andrew Cohen

Comprising the two most rural states in the nation (Vermont and Maine) as well as half of the country’s most densely populated metro region, the Northeast boasts a wide range of sports and recreation facilities that reflect this diversity. There are ski hills, outdoor trails for hiking, biking and winter sports, as well as comprehensively equipped indoor facilities. There’s also an abundance of infrastructure, lodging and ancillary attractions to make it easy and fun to come and compete.

Maine’s Attractions

“The creation of new sports facilities has increased the number of sports events we can host in state and spurred local economic development by creating numerous new jobs and boosting local tax revenue,” says Kerry Hoey, executive director of the Maine Sports Commission. “But the positive improvement to the quality of life for local residents may even exceed those more traditional benefits.”

Cross Insurance Arena in downtown Portland, Maine’s largest arena and home to the AHL Portland Pirates, just received a major facelift, while the Cross Insurance Center was completed in Bangor as a replacement for the Bangor Auditorium. The Cross Insurance Center is the state’s and University of Maine’s primary basketball venue (5,800 seats), and features an attached convention center.

The Norway Savings Bank Arena, Maine’s only dual-surface ice arena, tripled the number of ice sheets in Auburn when it opened in February 2014. According to arena manager Tim Holden, both sheets of ice stay busy all winter long. The energy-efficient rink utilizes the Kube Solutions System, a geothermal heat-exchange system that reclaims heat from the ice-making process to heat and generate hot water for the building.

Of course, it is (and has always been) Maine’s nature-based sports tourism that casts a wide net, bringing in those whose tastes run to the outdoors. New hiking, biking and skiing trails in the Moosehead-100-Mile Wilderness region will be created over the next five years, creating new opportunities for mountain biking, trail running and more.

The city of Westbrook has experienced a renaissance on the Presumpscot River, where swimmers, kayakers and fishermen have benefited from the installation of three ramps and floats along a two-mile stretch of the river downtown. But the real excitement will occur by 2017, when the city will open an urban whitewater park for the purposes of economic development and sports tourism.

 “It’s not a reality yet,” says Bill Baker, assistant city administrator, “but it is certainly real — and awesome.”

Connecticut’s New Cutting Edge

A planned baseball stadium complex in downtown Hartford, which has lured the AA Rock Cats from New Britain, Connecticut, to begin play there in 2016, is the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to Connecticut’s sports attractions. Opening in early 2015 is a new state-of-the-art lacrosse stadium at Fairfield University, with seating for 3,500, a new synthetic turf field and a permanent structure with a press box, VIP suites, concessions and locker rooms.

Hartford’s 40-year-old XL Center, a mainstay for sports, recently completed a $35 million renovation including a new lower-level bar and 16 premium loge boxes, ADA-compliant seating and renovation of the venue’s concourse, restrooms and concessions stands.

The Connecticut Convention Center, also located in Hartford, is another Mecca for sports, according to communications manager, Annika Deming. The center offers a 140,000-square-foot exhibit hall, as well as a 40,000-square-foot ballroom. New this year is LED lighting in the exhibit hall for increased energy efficiency; in fact, this project was the largest LED lighting retrofit in the state of Connecticut. Sports events for 2015 have already begun.

“We host the Northeast Regional Volleyball Association, and we’ll be doing two events with them,” Deming notes. “In January, we have the New England Winterfest, which we have hosted since 2010, and that is booked with us through 2017. In May, we’ll host a new event for that group, the Northeast Junior Championship, and that’s already booked through 2017 as well.”

The center, which hosts everything from ESPN’s Friday Night Fights to dance and cheer competitions, is connected to the Marriott Hartford Downtown, and is situated in the Front Street District, which offers a variety of restaurants and entertainment options.

Massachusetts: An Array of Opportunities

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, multiple facilities are increasing opportunities for sports tourism, and all are open for business.

Weston Field Athletic Complex at Williams College is the refurbished home of the Williams Ephs football team, with recent renovations adding a new synthetic turf surface, a grandstand, an addition for field hockey, a new track, a large support building and lighting for the fields.

The University Sports Complex in Hanover, which debuted in mid-2013, is now the largest indoor basketball and sports facility in New England, home to eight hardwood courts, a 132-by-40-yard indoor turf field and a new training facility. Finally, the New England Baseball Complex, which opened in Northborough last August, offers three full-sized synthetic turf fields that are outfitted with lighting to accommodate nighttime play. NEBC also plans to add a clubhouse, indoor training facilities and indoor batting tunnels onsite.

“It is very exciting to add new facilities and fields to our already robust inventory of venues,” says Shannah McArdle, director of the Sports Marketing Office of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism at the Massachusetts Marketing Partnership. “Top-notch venues like these add value and character to our communities across the Commonwealth and provide us with the opportunity to host world-class events.”

The NHL’s Boston Bruins are getting in on the facilities boom, as well. As part of New Balance’s Boston Landing project in Brighton, the Bruins will break ground on a new practice rink in spring 2015. Also included in the Boston Landing plan is a sports complex featuring an indoor track &field facility with seating for 3,500 and a Mondo track with hydraulically banked turns.

New York: Thinking Outside of the Seasons

Wintertime in Upstate New York might seem an unlikely time and location for a 100-team lacrosse tournament but the Greater Binghamton Sports Complex, the Northeast’s largest domed venue, makes many events possible.

Two Binghamton-area high schools completed field projects in 2014 — phase 1 of Johnson City High School’s Vision 2015 capital project saw the installation of a new synthetic turf field and resurfaced track at Wildcat Stadium, and Maine-Endwell High School completed construction of Gary Crooks Field, the district's new turf baseball field and related facilities, in time for the spring 2014 season.

“We’re absolutely pleased to have these new facilities, because they bring an extra opportunity for us,” says Judi Hess, tourism and special events manager at the Binghamton Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We now have six high schools that have turf fields, and because of the way our community is set up, they’re all so close to each other that even if teams have to travel from one field to another, it’s not daunting, and coaches find it easy to come to our state championships to recruit kids. With its new field, Maine-Endwell was able to host the state baseball tournament for the first time in 2014. We continue to hold the STOP-DWI Tournament of Champions, a huge softball tournament, in July every year, and we’ll be hosting the state lacrosse championship in 2015.”

Victories Await in Vermont

Burlington hosted the most heavily attended Women’s World Championship Hockey tournament ever in the U.S., meaning the pieces are in place to stage major indoor events. But many of the events the state has hosted take advantage of Vermont’s natural, rugged beauty, including cycling (the Green Mountain Stage Race), motorcycle rallies (BMW), action sports (the Dew Tour), the Vermont Summer Festival Horse Show, the National Street Rod Association and races from the USA Triathlon to the Craft Brew 5K in Stowe.

“We’re working on bringing more citywide sporting events, especially to the Burlington area,” says Susan Smith, executive director of the Vermont Convention Bureau. “One of the directions of the Bureau is to host more sporting events in Vermont. “We have a beautiful state for cycling, running and soccer, but we can also support indoor events such as badminton and USA Weightlifting. Our strategy last year and this year has been to look to bring some of those bigger events to this area.”

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