‘The Sanford Mile’ set to further develop Sports Complex

Dec. 5, 2019

As Great Shots, the latest draw to the Sanford Sports Complex, prepares to open Friday, Sanford leaders are actively working on the next phase of development in the area: a mile-long corridor dubbed “The Sanford Mile” designed to add retail, another hotel, living space and an additional sports anchor.

With the Great Shots golf and entertainment complex designed to be a regional destination, Sanford adds “another piece to help attract visitors and give guests a unique experience,” said Jesse Smith, director of operations and legal counsel for Sanford Sports.

“It’s a major addition to the complex.”

If the vision comes together, Great Shots will be one stop along The Sanford Mile, which begins at The Pentagon and will end at a future sports anchor.

That’s where Sanford’s energy is directed now.

“Our CEO, Kelby Krabbenhoft, has laid out his bold vision for the next half of the complex, and our jobs are to nail down an anchor facility at the end of the mile to bookend with the Pentagon,” Smith said.

“One of those possibilities is a baseball stadium. We’ve spoken with executives at every level of minor league baseball. We’ve spoken with executives at Major League Baseball. They’ve all been very supportive and encouraged us to continue down the path we’re on. They think it’s possibly a really good fit for minor league baseball.”

The current professional baseball agreement expires in September 2020, and a new agreement is being actively negotiated. It could result in dramatic changes to the number of minor league teams, their classification levels and the size of the leagues.

“We’ve been told the proposed changes to that agreement present the best opportunity for Sioux Falls to eventually land an affiliated baseball team,” Smith said. “Our vision for this is affiliated baseball. We believe that’s the model that will work here and that the city would support.”

A stadium would seat between 5,000 and 7,000 fans and be privately owned, he said.

A baseball stadium isn’t the only potential anchor for The Sanford Mile, Smith said.

Sanford also is talking to potential soccer users for a separate soccer stadium.

There’s enough room at the Sports Complex for both, Smith said.

Another concept plan shows a championship football stadium, although Smith said that appears less likely than baseball or soccer to land at the development.

“We throw a lot of ideas on the table,” he said, adding “nothing” is off-limits for discussion in terms of users at the complex.

“We’ve heard from soccer and baseball that they want a sports-specific stadium,” Smith said. “And their seasons overlap. Their schedule is the perfect complement to what we have now when we’re active with basketball and volleyball. We’re focused on trying to find the best fit, the best partners and who’s ready to go.”

Time is critical to making the best financial deal possible come together. The Sanford Sports Complex sits in a federally designed qualified opportunity zone, which allows an investor to sell an asset – real estate or stocks – for a gain and delay recognizing that gain if the proceeds are invested in a qualified opportunity fund.

Those tax benefits begin diminishing in 2020, though.

“We’re still in a good position to maximize that. There’s opportunity for team ownership and also the capital investment of facilities in an opportunity zone, so the timing is very unique,” Smith said, adding that the tax incentive is what baseball executives have said “is most appealing about this site.”

There are other selling points, though. Sanford has been promoting the success of its Pentagon tenant, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, in working with the Miami Heat to develop NBA players.

“Just watching the landscape and what MLB is pushing for, their changes revolved around player development and taking a more holistic approach to developing that athlete, and we have all that,” Smith said. “They’re looking for stadium amenities and the services we have at the Fieldhouse and Pentagon, plus we have the track record with the Miami Heat and Skyforce. It works.”

The proposed baseball stadium would include grass berm seating to accommodate additional fans and multiple spectator amenities.

“We have toured several sites and have identified many amenities that we feel would contribute to the fan experience and recognize that we need amenities beyond the game itself to create a fun atmosphere,” Smith said.

It’s not meant as a direct replacement for the Sioux Falls Stadium nearby at the Denny Sanford Premier Center complex or its tenant, the Sioux Falls Canaries, Smith said.

Sioux Falls has a lot to offer to an affiliated team. “There’s a lot of things to like. If you look at our demographics and how we compare to other minor league cities, we’re fourth in annual household income. They like the age and size. There are a lot of demographics that line up favorably with all levels of affiliation.”

The “level doesn’t matter, and affiliation doesn’t matter,” he added. “We’re just concerned about getting the product in here. Through our relationship with the Miami Heat, I think we’ve shown that doesn’t matter. Fans still come out and support it. We think affiliation is important, but we don’t have a preference on who it is. We just want an affiliated team. And they can move around every four years, so you’re not necessarily married to one franchise.”

If an anchor stadium tenant is secured, construction could start as soon as this spring, Smith said.

“It could move fairly quickly.”

Those conversations are occurring as a city group tasked with studying the events center campus recommended this week that a baseball stadium not be part of the long-term plan for the area.

“We struggled with the baseball stadium as a whole,” said Dan Statema, the group’s co-chair.

“It is a net loser for the city right now when it comes to the finances. … It’s very old; it’s very tired. We’ve made significant capital contributions into it in the past years just because of the life safety needs, things we needed to do to keep it open and active.”

The group had a conversation about the long-term feasibility of a baseball stadium at that location, he said.

“In the end, the group decided we are a baseball community. We do like baseball, but, as of right now for this particular campus, that ground is probably better suited for something other than a baseball stadium.”

At the Sanford Sports Complex, the remaining land along Westport – The Sanford Mile – ideally would fill in after a new anchor user is announced. A pedestrian walkway was extended along the road before the snow began to fall this year.

The idea is to develop retail, apartments and another hotel.

“We envision people going to events, going to Great Shots, eating at Blue Rock and going home to their rooftop apartment,” Smith said. “There’s opportunity to create density.”

The hope is to land a full-service hotel with enough rooms and meeting space to support major sporting events, as opposed to something geared toward family getaways, said Matt Ditmanson, director of business development for the Sports Complex.

“We’re looking for the right fit and the right timing,” he said. “We want beds, we want some convention space for NCAA activities, and it would probably be our intent to do that versus (a hotel with) a water park. They can come later, but that’s not a priority right now.”

There also will be connectivity to the city’s recreation trail through the campus, he said.

“And we want hospitality and retail that supports that pedestrian walkway, things millennials might like to go check out: coffee shops, microbreweries, strip malls.”

There also is considerable space designated for additional fields.

“Definitely more youth fields. We’re very interested in trying to provide more youth baseball and soccer fields,” Smith said. “We think there’s a need for more in the community, and it’s obviously a perfect fit out here.”

Great Shots to open with ‘wow’ factor

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‘The Sanford Mile’ set to further develop Sports Complex

As Great Shots, the latest draw to the Sanford Sports Complex, prepares to open Friday, Sanford leaders are actively working on the next phase of development in the area.

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