A strapping young athlete stands against the backdrop of a setting sun. His teammates departed, he takes a peaceful moment to ponder his surroundings. Pale blue sky gives way to wispy orange. Ready to go home now, he takes a few strides then stops, pivots on the seamless high-fiber-density Sportexe synthetic turf and addresses another man, who stands some yards away.
"Hey!" the athlete calls out. "Is this heaven?"
"No," the man replies with a smile. "It's Midlothian."
Welcome to the dreamworld of Steve Burton, CEO of SportsQuest, aka "the Q", in Chesterfield County. The time is the not-too-distant future. The young athlete stands in the heart of a sprawling futuristic campus, where healthy, glowing people of all ages engage in that most noble pursuit — sport. On one of SportsQuests' 17 soccer fields, youngsters battle it out in healthy competition while a teenager gets one-on-one training from the Obi Wan of track-and-field. And there! Across the complex! A family! Skates slung over their shoulders, parents and kids head for the SportsQuest café after a fun, heart-pumping time on the ice rink. They'd better get a move on! The Bonnie Raitt concert is about to start at the 2,500-seat amphitheater ...
Yes, SportsQuest is a partnership of many, including Chesterfield County. But make no mistake. This is primarily Burton's dream. And like every man with a dream, Burton will not be stopped by naysayers, petty jealousy, nonprofit sports organizations, local government, ominous music or the second worst economy in a century.
Burton's dream is not just big. It's downright Disneyesque in the context of little ol' Chesterfield County, Virginia. The Q is more than fields and an amphitheater. Much more. And dare I say it? Perhaps too much more.
Self-described as "the nation's newest amateur sports-tourism megafacility," SportsQuest will occupy 250 acres (about the size of Short Pump Town Center and the Magic Kingdom combined). It has outdoor running/walking/biking trails; "championship level" sports fields (17 in Phase 1 alone); a lighted track-and-field stadium that can hold 6,000 people; an indoor-cycling velodrome; a 100,000-square-foot field house for basketball, volleyball, fencing, badminton, table tennis, martial arts, wrestling and gymnastics.
It will house eight squash courts for all eight squash players in the Richmond area.
Along with the amphitheater, there will be an indoor arena with room for another 6,000 people; a "sports mall" with a 2,500-seat multisport Ice Plex; an aquatics center with 50-meter and 25-meter pools. Plus, bowling alleys, a laser-tag playground, an arcade, a fitness center and a café.
The Sports City Galleria will include pro shops and other retail space, and the Sports City Diner will house a juice bar, a café and a full-service restaurant.
World-class athletes from around the globe will train, even live on campus in exchange for working with paying members and their offspring — like little Carter, who needs help with his curveball, or little Olivia, who wants to shave a few split seconds off her 100-meter breast stroke.
SportsQuest promises to employ some 500 people and provide $6 million in local tax revenue. In so doing, SportsQuest will help reignite Chesterfield's economy. Even as the Great Recession goes on and on and on.
The Q will build healthier people and, in turn, a healthier community.
Cue the credits.
Now, I love a good dream. A really big one that's bold, exciting and sprinkled with a little bit of crazy. All the best movies are about one man and his impossible dream — Rocky, Rudy and the granddaddy of them all, Field of Dreams .
Who doesn't root for Ray Kinsella as he takes his family to the edge of bankruptcy to construct a baseball diamond in his cornfield? Who wants to be the Timothy Busfield character, who can't even see Shoeless Joe? Not I! If there is anything more unacceptable in this country than failure, it's not believing in a dream.
That's all very nice when it's merely a man and his dream. But now, it's a man, his dream and my money . Because Chesterfield County was laying off teachers, closing library branches one day a week and adding a recycling fee to counteract its considerable budget woes while it was committing $4.3 million dollars to Steve's dream.
"SportsQuest is the most misunderstood transaction we've ever done," County Board of Supervisors Dan Gecker said in the Chesterfield Observer . But Gecker isn't exactly helping the situation. As a concerned Chesterfieldian ... Chesterfielder ... citizen of Chesterfield, I e-mailed Gecker last February to ask about county funding for the Q. He replied unequivocally, "There are no county funds invested in SportsQuest."
That was technically true. At the time. But three months later, Chesterfield ponied up the $4.3 million in a 20-year contract to lease fields and other facilities from SportsQuest — the same amount, by the way, that the county planned to invest in improving existing fields and recreational facilities. Burton has revealed scant details about funding and membership enrollment. Cost estimates have ticked up and up, along with the scope of the project. One Richmond BizSense article has Burton talking about SportsQuest TV — an Internet TV service that will allow Grandma and Grandpa to watch Timmy during his swim meet via underwater cameras.
Oh, yes. It all sounds very wonderful, indeed. But even though Steve Burton and Chesterfield County are banking on, "If you build it, they will come," some of us taxpayers feel more like Ray Kinsella in his moment of doubt when he finally asks Shoeless Joe, "What's in it for me?"