Patton Township parcel eyed for sports complex

A local businessman is developing plans for an indoor recreational complex and is eying undeveloped land owned by The Second Mile near the University Park Airport.

Michael Lee hopes to build a multiple-sport complex with indoor playing fields and training facilities that could someday host everything from family recreation to competitive leagues.

While Lee said plans are in the early stages, he has commissioned a feasibility study and is considering whether 60 acres of land at the intersection of Fox Hill and Bernel roads would be suitable for the facility.

The Second Mile once planned to build a $9 million learning center on the site, but that idea was scrapped and the charity’s image was destroyed when founder Jerry Sandusky was accused and later convicted of sexually abusing boys.

If Lee wants to develop there, he will need approval from the Patton Township Board of Supervisors. The tract falls in the township’s planned airport zoning district, and such a complex isn’t currently an approved use there.

Lee, who was before the supervisors Wednesday, appeared to have preliminary support on the panel.

Supervisor chairman Elliot Abrams said he was recently out of town visiting family, and even though there was snow on the ground, the children could play soccer at an indoor facility.

“We don’t really have that,” Abrams said.

Lee told the supervisors he knows he’s not the first person to see the need for an indoor athletics complex in the Centre Region.

“It’s something I think I and a lot of people believe the area needs,” Lee said. “I think a number of people made a run at doing something like this. Maybe I’ll just be the latest. But I think I’ll be successful.”

Lee commissioned a company that designs indoor sports complexes to do a feasibility study about 18 months ago, and he said the report has “reinforced our feeling that an indoor sports facility would not only survive here but would likely thrive, so we’re now looking to take the next steps.”

For Lee and what he described as a small group of partners, that means finding a possible location to build. Before they move forward with the land near the airport, they want to be sure the township will allow the zoning change.

The supervisors voted Wednesday to send the matter on to the township’s planning commission, which will study the request and then make a recommendation on how to proceed. The matter will come before the planning commission in April.

Dave Woodle, interim CEO of The Second Mile, confirmed in an email that the site is for sale, but said there are no current offers for the property. He did say he was aware of the request before the Patton Township supervisors.

The property is listed for $2.1 million on a local real estate website. The Second Mile purchased 40 acres of property at the site for $168,500 from Penn State in 2002. The charity had previously bought 20 acres there for $64,000 in 1981, according to deeds.

A judge approved the sale of the charity’s headquarters on South Atherton Street last year. The Second Mile had previously been ordered by a judge to hold its assets until civil lawsuits with Sandusky’s victims are resolved.

Woodle said Wednesday that the charity has been granted permission to sell the land in the past, but can’t distribute the funds without further court approval.

Patton Township Manager Doug Erickson said Wednesday that municipal officials “would like to see somebody do something with the property.”

Lee outlined his vision for the indoor sports complex in a letter to the board:

The complex would feature turf fields capable of supporting both practice and competition for soccer, lacrosse, flag football and other sports for all ages and skill levels.

It would feature a large baseball and softball training center, and possibly a gymnastics training center and a strength, speed and condition area.

A “family fun” area would include features such as video games, space for birthday party rooms, concessions and other amenities to entertain people who aren’t using the fields.

Betsey Howell, Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau’s executive director, said that organization several years ago hired a consultant “whose report strongly suggested our area could benefit greatly by pursuing the sports market for tournaments which would provide a strong economic impact for the businesses in our community.”

“We strongly believe our area is in need of indoor sports facilities,” she wrote in an email.