COLUMBUS, Ohio – Columbus Crew president and general manager Mark McCullers stated in an October 2008 interview that he hoped the organization could complete a new training facility on either the current site at Obetz, or elsewhere in central Ohio within a couple of years.
"Ideally in 2010 we’d like to be moving into the type of facility that we’ve drawn up and envisioned," he said then. "That’s the goal. It’s still possible.”
McCullers spoke at a time just after the US economy had begun a serious decline that has repercussions even today. He couldn't have predicted then how dire the situation would be become for the communities with whom he'd been discussing partnership on an ambitious project to expand the Crew brand.
Now, four and a half years later, the economy is on the rebound and he is once again optimistic that the Crew's aging facility in suburban Columbus (above) will eventually be replaced.
His vision is for a soccer complex of about a dozen fields for youth and adult tournaments, with dedicated ones for the Crew, including at least one with artificial turf. There would be locker rooms for the Crew and other clubs as well as fitness and sports medicine facilities.
Also, an indoor training field is on the wish list.
"The economy's coming back a little bit, so there's opportunities now to have better discussions about our training complex, which ideally would have some kind of indoor component to it," McCullers told MLSsoccer.com recently. "The bubble [enclosures] these days are not terribly expensive, so you can put them up and take them down."
When the Obetz facility opened on Aug. 11, 1997, it was the first built for an MLS team. It had two fields (one lighted), limited bleacher seating and a building that was large enough to handle all the team's needs.
Head coach Robert Warzycha, who was a Columbus player back then on a markedly smaller team, can't help but notice the overcrowding now, even with the expansion of the locker room in 2006 because of the addition of a dozen players to the roster.
"We're trying to do the best we can," he said. "Obviously, we're going from 18 guys [in 1997] to 30 and even more because we have trialists, guests we invite in and guys from the [Crew Soccer Academy].
"It's the same with the staff. There were two coaches and now we have much more," he added. "The facility itself, they've done an excellent job keeping the fields in very, very good shape but we have more academy practices, more academy teams. This year is going to be very challenging."
That's why the Crew covet a new training ground, which would be built via a private-public partnership. McCullers said there have been discussions with one municipality within Franklin County, where Columbus resides, and talks have been ongoing with Delaware County officials for the past six years.
Recent plans for commercial centers at the I-71 interchange – 11 miles north of the I-270 outer belt and 20 miles north of downtown – have the Crew excited about the possibility of relocating their practice fields in Delaware County.
"With the announcement now of potential outlet malls across the area and some other developments taking place, that's what needs to happen to fuel the infrastructure that's necessary for the training complex," McCullers said. "That's what's making it interesting right now. "We haven't had to go knock on doors. Communities and developers understand it's very tangible, the economic impact and the number of visitors with this sort of facility."