York County travel ball parents who feel like they're paying by the mile will have a closer option soon.
The $10 million Pride Baseball Complex is expected to break ground by fall, on 50 acres between Rock Hill and York. Seven artificial turf baseball fields and dormitories will open at Old York and Harper roads. The first fields for youth leagues to college ball should be ready for play by spring, and the rest by fall 2019.
"Our hope is to break ground in the next two months," said Joe Hudak, former Winthrop University baseball coach and Pride Baseball founder.
Pride Baseball has raised half the money, and has a guaranteed bank loan for most of the rest. The group is asking York County for the rest of $800,000 in hospitality tax money, a 2-percent county tax on prepared food or drink in unincorporated areas used to fund county tourism projects..
The complex will include indoor training areas, a $450,000 press box with concessions and restrooms, a smaller version of that same facility and dorms that can host events or camps.
The plan for the new baseball facility is to bring in 40 to 80 teams most weekends throughout the year. The complex will have a staff of four people.
"From the middle of February to the middle of November, we'll be hosting tournaments," said Hudak, who runs a Christian nonprofit Pride Baseball, separate from the for-profit company formed to build the site.
Hudak said last year there were up to 350 travel baseball teams competing on a given weekend in the region, from upstate South Carolina to Charlotte. With the closest facility of its kind this side of Myrtle Beach or Charleston, the Pride Baseball site could allow area travel teams to compete closer to home.
"These coaches who run these teams and events, this is the easiest sell," said Pride organizer Gary Williams. "It'll self-market."
The Pride team sees an event it working with existing ballfields, too.
"It will overflow to other parks, county parks, city parks," Williams said.
Billy Dunlap, executive director with the county convention and visitor bureau, said there have been "preliminary discussions about this facility."
There are several ways the site could help York County, Pride Baseball organizers say. Dorms mean overnight stays, which means more money through the county accommodations tax. The tax typically is charged at hotels, but applies for any commercial overnight stay.
Plus, there's the hospitality tax. Although there aren't many restaurants near where the Pride complex is going, Hudak says Pride will be bring 5,000 or more new visitors to the area most weekends of the year.
"With that many people coming every weekend, I believe there will be restaurants," Hudak said.
The Pride team says as York County takes strides to become a sports tourism power, baseball fields are needed for popular youth baseball.
"It's growing, and it's not going to go away," he said.
Hudak, who led Winthrop for 19 years including during construction of its $6.5 million ballpark, approached the county two years ago with a dream. Now his group has a gameplan.
"We are much further along, and actually very close to seeing this dream become a reality," said Hudak, who also coaches the Piedmont Pride in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League, based out of Rock Hill playing games at York Comprehensive High School.
Another new sports complex with multipurpose and baseball fields, owned by the county, is planned on 50 acres in Lake Wylie. Organizers there wanted a place for local youth competition, but got the park moving when they got hospitality tax money and set up a special recreation tax based on revenue the site would generate hosting tournaments.
In Tega Cay, Catawba Park is planned. That site, too, combines baseball with multipurpose fields and other outdoor space. Mayor David O'Neal called the recent addition of a small property that would allow for a fourth ballfield a "big, big, big step" for the city for more tournament play.
Fort Mill is building a new baseball complex in the Waterside at the Catawba subdivision, to work in conjunction with fields at Dobys Bridge Park.