JEFFERSON — City of Jefferson officials are hoping an established Madison-area sports and recreation enterprise can step in to take over ownership of the large, but yet-to-be completed, sporting complex just north of U.S. Highway 18 near Fair Park on the city’s west side.
Eric Fritz, who serves as chief entertainment officer of the Keva Sports Center in Middleton, met Tuesday with Jefferson officials to discuss his firm’s hopes for taking up where the X-Cel center’s former planners left off when they were forced to abandon their mission of completing their center due to financial problems.
Fritz told city officials during Tuesday’s common council session that Keva has the former X-Cel center under contract and he is “cautiously optimistic” that he and his colleagues can resurrect the vision of it becoming a sports and recreation center with a focus on soccer. Among other emphases would be baseball, flag football and lacrosse.
“The building will stay pretty much the same,” Fritz told council members and other city leaders Tuesday, further statint that an outdoor, multi-purpose athletic field might be added on the facility’s north side.
Site plans and conditional-use documents have been submitted to the city, along with other requirements as the process for Keva moves along. The state is reviewing other plans to evaluate before the center could see continued construction. It has been in existence for three years, but has been dormant, meaning that updates are needed, according to Fritz. All requirements of Keva that have been put in place by the city, to date, have been met.
“The zoning is right and they have a conditional-use permit in place,” Jefferson City Administrator Tim Freitag said, adding that among the final city requirements for Keva will be to complete a developer’s agreement.
After the meeting, Fritz offered further explanations and clarifications of Keva’s plans in Jefferson. He said Keva will keep an open mind about potential uses of the center.
“The Keva Sports Center in Middleton is a large, indoor/outdoor sports facility. We offer recreational sports for adults and kids. We are taking our template from Middleton and moving it over to the facility in Jefferson with some space for other companies, if that can work.”
Fritz said he was aware of the availability of Jefferson’s X-Cel facililty for some time, but was reminded of it by an acquaintance this past spring.
“So we have been working on it. There are a few reasons this is attractive to us. That whole area is steeped in strong sports history. There is a sports focus there. I played soccer at UW-Whitewater. We want to be a part of that,” he said.
Keva’s Middleton facility has been in existence for 20 years and its veteran operators are looking for increased opportunities.
“This is good timing,” Fritz said of the potential opening in Jefferson.
He called the site’s location almost ideal.
“It has really attractive, easy access to people from Watertown, Whitewater, Cambridge and Fort Atkinson,” Fritz said. “We really want to communicate with the communities all around Jefferson. Our feasibility plan showed ease of access to everywhere, but possibly the east.”
He said the feasibility study confirmed a “gut feeling” he had.
Fritz said the Jefferson facility would be smaller than the Middleton Keva center.
“But Jefferson is a smaller region, so (the facility) doesn’t need to be large,” Fritz said. “Across the country, centers like this are going in two directions. Some are playing to the local scene and recreational player. Going in the other direction are the large, 100,000-plus-square-foot places that are located in more metropolitan areas.”
Jefferson’s facility measures approximately 47,000 square feet.
“We are open to working with the community in the future to figure out the best sporting and recreational uses of this facility,” Fritz said. “We’ve had a series of meetings with the city and we are excited to be in the community and region. We have a great deal of experience in this business and we like to try new things. We stick to our core offerings, but we try new things and that is what it will take to make the facility at Jefferson successful.”
According to Fritz, Keva would like to meet with other municipalities in the area to see what their needs might be.
“We have been moving this project along really quickly and I continue to use the words ‘cautiously optimistic,’” he said. “We are trying to hit our contingencies and we want to make sure this is financially viable. We would like to be up and running by Dec. 1; however, a backup contingency opening time would be summer of 2020.”
Fritz said Jefferson city officials have been “very good to work with.”
“There is a developer’s agreement we are working on and that is the last piece,” he said. “A lot of it, at this point, is us working with the bank to get financing and working on the price of construction. There needs to be a lot done on the interior, because it has been sitting for three years.”