Matthew Libber considers Covenant Park, located in Ellicott City with nine soccer fields, walking paths, concessions and restrooms, to be the top venue for local sports in Howard County — for the moment. “It’s the largest multipurpose facility in the county,” said Libber, vice president for business operations with Elite Tournaments.
He also names Terrapin Adventures — featuring activities such as zip lining, ropes courses and kayaking — as another great location.
Among the tournaments Elite organizes, nothing in local sports draws out-of-towners like the Columbia Invitational, a soccer tournament conducted in partnership with the Soccer Association of Columbia/HC (SAC), held over Memorial Day Weekend. “It has just under 700 teams coming from 20 states,” Libber said.
With Covenant Park and the new Blandair Park in Columbia — which currently has three lighted, synthetic turf, multipurpose fields — Howard County appears to be sitting pretty in high-end sports venues.
But in the eyes of those organizing sports events, Howard County, along with Anne Arundel and the rest of Maryland, are pretty “field-deprived.” Libber is among a growing group of executives from sports-related companies envisioning more fields for more players, along with all of the economic benefits they bring.
“We are currently looking to develop a new multi-purpose facility in the county with 10 to 15 fields,” said Libber. “We are exploring different locations within the county now and are working with a few investment groups interested in the project.”
But, Oh, Those Land Costs …
Like Libber, Terry Hasseltine, executive director of Maryland Sports, a company developing sports tourism in the state, can immediately name some top venues in Howard County: “Blandair Park, Troy Park, Covenant Park, Centennial Park for outdoor and Meadowbrook for indoor.”
But it’s not enough, he said. “We are still lacking the linear fields in Maryland needed to be highly competitive in the sports tourism space and be able to provide for necessary access for our residents, too,” he said. “It’s a delicate balance, the land costs and location of available land.”
And the “if you build it they will come” model simply doesn’t work, he said. “You need the right asset amenities within close proximity.”
Some people have been pining for better sports facilities for years. For indoor track runners, for example — who range in age from under 6 years to senior citizens — the Prince George’s County Sports and Learning Complex is the closest large indoor track they have for meets, some of which draw more than 1,000 runners from across the nation.
Unless they go to the Prince George’s complex, runners in Howard and Anne Arundel counties take to the slippery wooden track at the Baltimore Armory. When, they are asking, will Howard County be home to an indoor track that can host real meets?
“At this time there are no plans for such a facility; however I wouldn’t think it is out of the question for the future,” said Hasseltine. “It would require some research and exploration to determine its potential usage and economic vitality for the region.”
The Unsung Venues
While Blandair Park, Covenant Park and soccer get most of the attention in Howard County, there are other unsung venues and sports that are growing. “In addition to soccer, lacrosse and field hockey are huge here in Howard County,” said Sally Slater, director of sales for Visit Howard County. “We are thrilled with the expansion project Blandair is currently undergoing, and Troy Park is also undergoing an expansion.”
The 101-acre Troy Park in Elkridge has two lighted, synthetic, multipurpose fields with press box structures, bleachers and a playground.
Also in Elkridge, for mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners, as well as ball players, disc golfers and BMX riders, Rockburn Branch Park has been a quietly appreciated venue since 1960. When Howard County announced Rockburn Park as a potential site for a 13th high school, residents voiced their opposition through a “Save Rockburn Park” petition that had gathered more than 3,500 signatures by mid-January.
In January, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman voiced his opposition to the proposed site at Rockburn as well.
Kittleman also called for the Howard County Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments to look more closely into the possibility of building a high school at Troy Park.
“Unlike Rockburn Park, Troy Park would not require as much environmental remediation, and it is not completely built out,” he said. “While there could be some challenges to constructing a high school at that location, I believe it warrants a more in-depth evaluation.”
Troy Park is a co-location for two of the largest sports tournaments in the area, one of which is the Maryland Youth Field Hockey League’s Halloween Havoc Tournament, which draws 800 families to Troy Park, as well as Blandair, Oakland Mills High School, Rockburn and Cedar Lane Park. The other is a fall lacrosse tournament that draws 400 families to Troy, Oakland Mills and Blandair.
For existing high schools, field improvements have been a highlight of the last decade, as all the high schools in Howard County installed synthetic turf through a joint-use agreement with the county Recreation and Parks Department. The fields — and the agreement — are working well, said John Davis, athletic coordinator for Howard County Public Schools. “We have fostered an excellent working relationship with Recreation & Parks so the implementation and use of the turf fields work well for all stakeholders,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Anne Arundel County, major league lacrosse team Chesapeake Bayhawks has announced its vision of building an expansive sports complex on the grounds of the former Crownsville Hospital Center. The venue could cost around $170 million to realize, and the three-phase project eventually would bring a 10,000-seat stadium, 20 sports fields and accompanying restaurants.
Plans could include a hotel, according to a December announcement from the Bayhawks, and fields would include facilities for soccer, football and lacrosse, as well as a baseball complex. The fields could be used by the county’s Recreation & Parks department, as well as local youth sports teams.