Entrepreneur pursues privately funded sportsplex in El Jebel area
One deterrent to an indoor recreation center in the past was the expense of improving the overburdened intersection of Valley Road and El Jebel Road.
Eagle County’s proposed solutions were estimated at about $4 million in the past. Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll said his staff has looked at different ideas and believes it could be improved for significantly less.
The ideas are nothing more than “hen scratches” at this point but he anticipates presenting them to the county commissioners in August. The idea would need to be accepted by the board and by the Colorado Department of Transportation, according to Shroll. He will also introduce the idea to stakeholders such as the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which has a parking lot by the intersection.
The current intersection doesn’t leave much space between Highway 82 and Valley Road, so vehicles stack up at busy times and create congestion. Shroll said the new proposal is “a better plan that’s a little more functional” and “for a lot less money.”
A former college hockey player and successful business entrepreneur aims to build a midvalley “sportsplex” as a legacy project and gift to the Basalt-El Jebel area.
Sheldon Wolitski, founder and chairman of the board of a company called The Select Group, is searching for property in the midvalley where he could build a complex that would include something for everyone from toddlers to senior citizens.
“I’m not looking for any handouts,” Wolitski told the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District’s board of directors at a meeting last week. “I would fund the whole thing.”
Wolitski and his family recently relocated to the Roaring Fork Valley and are building a home in Missouri Heights. As he has learned more about his adopted town, it became clear many midvalley families are frustrated about the lack of sports and recreation facilities and the need to drive to Aspen or Glenwood Springs for access. He wants to change that.
“What this community is missing is a sports center,” he said.
He sketched his plan for the Crown Mountain board and provided a handout that said the envisioned facility is “expected to include”: yoga and Pilates studio; basketball, volleyball, squash and tennis courts; soccer fields; indoor batting cages; ice hockey rink; fitness center; gymnastics center; women’s center; physical therapy and rehabilitation center; kids’ care and play area; and dining options. Aquatic facilities also are an option.
Wolitski said the sportsplex would be constructed in three phases. The first phase would feature an ice hockey rink as well as fitness and wellness centers.
“I think the rink would be the pillar,” he said. He also is considering establishing a hockey academy so the plan could include housing.
The components of the second and third phases would be determined by a community survey.
“If the surveys tell me what people want, I’ll figure out a way to build it,” he said.
The plan would require 6 to 8 acres of land. The sites he is exploring include U.S. Forest Service property adjacent to Crown Mountain Park as well as property that is leased for the park but unused.
The Forest Service is preparing to sell or lease property it owns by Crown Mountain Park. About 9 acres is located along Valley Road.
Wolitski believes it would be best if the sportsplex is located by Crown Mountain Park to create a “one-stop shopping” experience.
“I think it would be a good marriage,” he said.
The idea is in its infancy and components are yet to be determined, so it’s difficult to put a price on the complex. He said each phase would be $5 million to $7 million, so the total could top $20 million.
He would create an entity to manage the facility. He’s learned from the operation of The Select Group that the key to success is hiring good people, he said.
Wolitski stressed to the Crown Mountain board he is not looking to make a profit from the complex, but he doesn’t want to sink money into it indefinitely.
“I’ve gotta find a way to break even on it,” he said.
A proposal for a publicly funded indoor recreation center was soundly defeated in 2013. Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District sought approval to issue $25 million bonds to build and equip the center and raise property taxes to pay them off. The proposal lost about 71% to 29%. The results were widely read to be against the tax hike, not necessarily against an indoor center.
Crown Mountain sniffed around the idea of constructing an indoor facility last year, but dismissed it early in the process due to the cost.
Wolitski’s plan is different because he would build with private funds. He feels a center would be financially feasible due to the growing midvalley population.
“You already have so many people here,” Wolitski said.
There also are creative ways to raise funds, such as naming rights to facilities and flexible use of space. Midvalley families who cannot afford the membership will be provided with scholarships, he said.
He also envisions operating a sports academy and a high performance athletic institute. Wolitski played hockey at the University of Alabama Huntsville. The team went undefeated during his senior year in 1996 and was national champion in NCAA Division II.
He founded The Select Group in 1999. It has become a leader in uniting top companies with skilled workers for managed services and contingent staffing. It also provides specialized IT services.
Wolitski, 48, said he is willing to take on such a big project because he wants to give back to the community. He has joined the board of Aspen Junior Hockey. He and his wife have three sons.
“It’s a legacy thing for me,” he told the Crown Mountain board members. “I hope it can impact a lot of people.”
The Crown Mountain board gave executive director Becky Wagner a green light to work on a plan with Wolitski.
Wolitski said he welcomes input from people who can help with the plan. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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