HOLYOKE — Plans for a new sports complex and home for the International Volleyball Hall of Fame were announced on Feb. 6 by city and project leaders as the city aims to create, “the sports capital of New England.”

Spearheaded by Mayor Joshua Garcia and local entrepreneur Cesar Ruiz, leader of the USA International Sport Complex Group, this ambitious, $100 million venture seeks to bolster Holyoke’s status as the birthplace of volleyball and become a hub in the region for sports development and events. The announcement was made on Feb. 6 inside the current International Volleyball Hall of Fame.

The new project calls for the creation of a new building to host the Hall of Fame, along with 16 volleyball and basketball courts and the installation of other activities such as an arcade, bowling alley and rock climbing. A new hotel is also included in plans for a later phase of the project.

“When I say that it’s time for Holyoke, I mean that it is indeed time for Holyoke,” Garcia said about the city’s growth in economic development the last three years. “Having a sports complex has been the desire of many Holyokers from every corner of this city since I was a kid, simply because we are a sports city.”

The proposed sports complex is poised to revolutionize the city’s sports landscape as plans are to host over 30 events and tournaments annually. With an anticipated impact of $41 million, the complex promises to invigorate the local economy and provide unparalleled recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike.

Key features of the indoor complex will include approximately 140,000 square feet of indoor space, 16 volleyball and basketball courts and family-oriented activities such as arcade, bowling and rock climbing. The square footage does not include additional areas for outdoor activities and parking which are details that are still being worked out.

“Think about it. Holyoke: the sports capital of New England. Think about that,” Ruiz said, sharing the project’s tagline.

According to Ruiz, this project getting started did not happen overnight and took some convincing by Garcia. Now with his company having grown more the last two years since an initial discussion on potentially bringing in this project, Ruiz said now is the right time where he can devote himself to such an ambitious project.

“I couldn’t sleep for weeks because if this vision. I told the mayor, we can do this,” Ruiz said.

The Sports Facilities Companies of Clearwater, Florida, is behind design plans for the complex and list on their website more than 40 sports and recreation venues it has helped build or manage over the years and spanning across more than 20 states. Ruiz added he had to make sure when taking this project as a reality that he did his research in finding the best partner to pull this off.

“They eat and breathe sports complexes,” Ruiz said. “They have been on board since February of last year, doing the feasibility study and planning on this concept.

Director of the Latino Economic Development Corp. in Springfield Andrew Melendez, a native of Holyoke, has been named chief operating officer for the project. Melendez noted volleyball was higher on the list of world’s most popular sports than more popular American sports like baseball, basketball and American football.

“A billion people play volleyball across the world,” Melendez said. “We want them to be proud when they walk into the sports complex in Holyoke, where they can be honored to receive their induction to the Volleyball Hall of Fame.”

The complex will also generate employment opportunities, said Melendez who was excited to share the creation of jobs. When the first phase of the complex is finally completed and opened, the plan is for 12 full-time and 30 part-time staff members are envisioned to operate the facility.

Melendez also expressed his desire to create a memorandum of understanding with Holyoke Public Schools to allow for students to have access to the center for training and its resources.

“I’m a Holyoker, born and raised. I went to the public schools, and I would love that opportunity to be a Holyoke Knight and be able to train and condition at the sports complex,” Melendez said.

Different locations are being looked at for the complex, such as downtown on the Main Street and High Street corridor, or on the upper end of the city toward Interstates 90 and 91, according to Director of Planning and Economic Development Aaron Vega. Vega reiterated during the conference that this complex would span multiple locations across the city, hoping to capitalize on its history as the birthplace of volleyball to create future economic growth.

“We want to make some of this easy to get to for teams from the region and out of state,” Vega said. “We’ll be looking at downtown and we’ve got a couple of locations we’re looking at. This would be more of a facility that may have more to do with entertainment that would be a compliment to the larger facility.”

The project will be carried out in several phases, with the first phase being the construction of the new Hall of Fame and outdoor sports facilities. This is expected to cost $50 million and $65 million and be completed by the end of 2026. In total, Vega said the project will take about five to six years to complete.

During the conference, Ruiz credited Garcia’s skillset and leadership as reasons he and other stakeholders involved in the project felt comfortable coming together for such a big project for the city.

“Last June my team and the mayor’s team went up to Boston and met with the Mass Development Corporation and let me tell you, no exaggeration, they’re over the moon about this project because, like I, we believe in this man [Garcia],” Ruiz said. “We believe in Josh, that’s why we are investing in this community because we’re investing in him. We’re investing in the project, investing our dollars in the community of Holyoke. Holyoke is going to have a renaissance with this initiative.”

Following the press conference, Ruiz told Reminder Publishing that Garcia’s career experience in planning and development, and his past experience as a town manager has made him an effective mayor in accomplishing projects and getting things done.

“You have individuals that run for public office with really no experience. People become mayor because they’ve been on the city council but really have no in depth economic development background. Josh Garcia is very different. He is an administrator. He knows how to run a town. He’s done it for years. The transition from a town to a city is not a big adjustment, so he is a competent administrator. I’ve seen that competency work within the city limits which increases my enthusiasm for his leadership,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz added Garcia was the one who through being persistent was able to help ignite the passion for this project.

Garcia told Reminder Publishing he was very humbled by Ruiz’s comments and felt from his perspective his job was to help untangle knots across the city.

“As mayor you’re this grand facility, project manager. We facilitate all these initiatives and projects to achieve our objectives and improve the quality of life. That’s the goal, and the objectives have different subcategories under that. I think what I bring to the table, my greatest strength and skillset, is being able to untangle knots as a manager and get stakeholders to work better together, and also from a local government standpoint that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing as a local government to offer the information and support needed, so that private investors or whatever sub category we are talking about, that those folks have the tools they need and giving them the directive to produce the outcomes we want.” Garcia continued, “I lead through the lens of management, and I try to stay away from the politics as much as possible because when you focus on management, it’s black and white. It’s clear what we need to do to hit our targets and bring in revenue so we can continue to maintain services. That’s the skillset I’ve been bringing to the table since day one that has allowed these things to come to fruition. The best way to describe it is I feel like I’m untangling knots. I’m the override, I’ll come in and untangle a knot, set an expectation directive and then things fall into place where it needs to. And people like Cesar see that and feel that. It kind of offers a whole new sense of pride and hope for the city of Holyoke.”

The International Volleyball Hall of Fame is currently home to over 160 inductees from 25 countries and attracts enthusiasts from across the globe. Since its inauguration in 1987, the Hall of Fame has celebrated volleyball’s elite through its annual induction ceremony, a tradition cherished by sports enthusiasts worldwide.

The city and its association with volleyball dates back to 1895 when William G. Morgan, then the physical director of the Holyoke YMCA, conceived the sport’s concept and rule. His visionary contributions earned him the distinction of being the inaugural inductee into the hall of fame in 1985.

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts