Members of the Greater Burlington Partnership Chamber Ambassador Committee and others involved in the planning of and fundraising effort to make possible pair of indoor sports facilities gathered Wednesday to break ground on the FunCity Courts.
The 26,000-square-foot facility, which will be built in what was the east parking lot of the FunCity Resort Hotel, is expected to be complete in spring of 2023.
“It’s a great day for this experience and this opportunity,” Southeastern Community College President Michael Ash told the crowd gathered at the site. “This has been years in the making, millions of dollars in the making, and we’re so excited about the possibilities and how this is going to bring more opportunity for our communities, as well as bring new people into our communities through the various activities and events and programming that we’ll have here.”
Ash also leads the Greater Burlington Area Sports Facilities, the non-profit that will manage the facility aimed at boosting sports tourism and improving health, fitness, and athletic activities in the area.
With three collegiate-sized basketball courts that will allow for up to six volleyball courts and a 10,000-square-foot multi-use area that can be used for pickleball courts, the facility will be able to host a wide range of tournaments, including wrestling.
Planning for the FunCity Courts, as well as its sister building, the FunCity Turf, an indoor soccer complex completed in 2019, began in 2011 after a group of community leaders traveled to Dubuque to see how that city was getting what Matt Shinn, director of City Hope of Burlington, described as “ground-level support for major projects and initiatives.”
“Out of that bus trip spawned something here in town called the Imagine Campaign,” Shinn said.
The Imagine Campaign asked Burlington residents to submit ideas to improve the community. More than 3,500 ideas were submitted, then winnowed down to 100 through a process of community voting, then 30 and then five.
“Out of those ideas were we want to make Burlington a place where every child has an opportunity to succeed,” Shinn said. “We want to help with the attractiveness and make Burlington a place where people want to live, work and play. We want to invest in our riverfront, and we also want to create a facility where Burlington is a place where conventions and tourism grow and boom, and in order to do that, we needed indoor sports complexes.”
The Imagine Campaign so far has raised $6.1 million for the project.
With the idea of a sports complex in mind, Randy Winegard, CEO of Burlington manufacturer Winegard Co., gifted $400,000 to the city of Burlington for feasibility studies and analysis of the project in 2012. The Winegard Foundation and Winegard Trust, created by and named for Winegard’s family, went on to invest $3.1 million in the facilities.
Winegard is a well-known supporter of community initiatives but most often stays behind the scenes. On Wednesday, however, he participated in the groundbreaking ceremony to much applause. He used his time speaking at the event to thank those behind the effort for their work.
“It’s taken a great deal of hard work, perseverance, team work and compromise to accomplish what we’ve accomplished,” Winegard said. “I’ve actually done very little of that. These people back here have done the heavy lifting.
“I think the citizens of Burlington should be very grateful for all the hard work they’ve done and the perseverance that they’ve had to accomplish this, because it’s not easy to bring a large group of people together who have very different ideas of the way things should be done, and it takes just a heck of a lot of hard work and perseverance.”
Plans for the project have been changed multiple times since the idea’s inception. Initially, the Courts and the Turf were to be constructed on SCC’s campus in West Burlington. Then, organizers began looking at existing buildings that could potentially house the facilities, but that, too, fell by the wayside. Ultimately, it was determined the sports complex would be divided in two, with the Turf being built across the street from the RecPlex. The location for the Courts wasn’t finalized until late last year.
Businesses involved in the project include Davenport-based architecture and design firm Studio 483, Bettendorf-based commercial interior design firm Conceptual Designs Inc., and Bettendorf-based construction company Built to Suit Inc.
Prior to the opening of the FunCity Courts, FunCity plans to re-open Ballocity, a new indoor water feature and the new Ninja Extreme Course, to be joined sometime in 2023 by a new Court Side activity space featuring concessions, arcade games, video screens and more.
Michaele Niehaus covers business, development, environment and agriculture for The Hawk Eye. She can be reached at [email protected].