The following article appeared in the April 14, 2017 edition of the Providence Journal.
ATTLEBORO — Two realities about youth sports spurred developers David Boucher and Joseph Fitzpatrick: an astounding figure of $7 billion — and vending-machine pretzels.
The $7 billion is what parents spend each year in America getting their kids to sports practices, games and tournaments, according to the National Association of Sports Commissions, which monitors the sports tourism industry.
The pretzels are the common entree for starving, kid-carting parents.
Boucher and Fitzpatrick, both local guys familiar with drive-by appearances of their spouses on practice nights, wondered: what if parents could go to one place for all their children’s various sports activities? What if they could enjoy a real meal as a family? Stay in a hotel surrounded by multiple sports venues at tournament times, and maybe get in their own workout, too?
Their idea, the New England Sports Village, is taking shape two miles off Route 95, on Commerce Way.
“Our goal is to provide every different amenity that a family would need to make their lives easier,” said Boucher, 41, sitting in the village’s new ice rink facility, “whether it’s turf sports, court sports, ice sports, aquatic sports or ancillary sports to those.”
The village is only the second such sports complex of its kind in New England, the developers say. The first one, Chelsea Piers, in Stamford, Connecticut, opened in 2012.
The village is being developed in phases on 139 acres purchased from the city for economic development.
Phase 1, costing $53 million, includes two full size hockey rinks (and a half-sheet rink) that opened in December, and an Olympic-size swimming pool and 100-room hotel, both expected to open by the end of 2018. The hotel would be used by families attending sports tournaments.
The rink facility also includes a Dunkin’ Donuts, Yogurt Beach and a pro shop. A restaurant, called “The Barn,” is scheduled to open at the end of April.
Plans for Phase 2, which won’t be completed until 2022, include a tennis and wellness center and a school. The “International Academy” would educate elite student athletes from around the world looking to eventually play professional sports, such as hockey players.
Fitzpatrick, who is 43, said their business plan is “recession proof,” based on the belief that “youth sports isn’t going away.”
Most American families are like his, he said. If money is tight, maybe they’ll skip vacation. But these days they don’t stop paying for their little Johnny’s hockey practices.
“You always pay for your kids youth sports,” he said. “That’s forever. That’s why it’s recession proof.”
The developers envision the village attracting elite youth athletes from private hockey, lacrosse and swim leagues, as well as those representing their local middle and high schools.
They see the need for modern sports facilities only growing because many municipal facilities, like town hockey rinks, are getting older and hard-pressed communities balk at building new ones.
“They don’t have the money,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s all being privatized.”
“If you’ve got the academy here, you can have international academy kids using all the amenities during the day, and then there would be a transition and the rest of the general population could use them into the night. In effect, the business model would allow you to crank virtually 24/7.”
The developers are also seeing beyond sports — envisioning perhaps as much as 70 acres of their development filled with retail stores and an office or medical center, in the same way that Patriot Place grew up around Gillette Stadium.
“If we can generate more and more traffic coming in here,” said Boucher, “we don’t have to make our money on mom and dad who need to rent skates because they can’t buy skates right now…. As the mall concept takes over and continues to build, that’s where we can make the business model successful.”
The developers are looking overseas for investment money. For instance, about 20 percent of Phase 1, or about $11 million, is coming from Indian investors.
The developers are using a federal program, called EB-5, that offers U.S. residency status to wealthy foreigners willing to invest in American projects. Congress created the program in 1990 with the aim of creating jobs in areas of high unemployment. Fitzpatrick said Attleboro qualifies for the program because of its proximity to Pawtucket.
Tom Mooney, Journal Staff Writer