Many municipalities, schools and colleges offering sports programs are finding themselves in a facilities crunch. Often, their existing facility is in dire need of an upgrade, and their needs may have changed since their current facility was constructed. Maybe facility management is not their strong suit and they would prefer to hand their future build over to a professional management team. Or it may be all about the financials, with needs being a portion of the total slots available.
That’s where Brian DeVellis and ESG Associates comes in. The Massachusetts-based firm excels at public-private collaboration on year round athletic facilities, helping its clients cover all bases — venue design, permitting, construction oversight and operations. DeVellis is the President of ESG Associates and, with a background in law and landscape architecture, has been developing partnerships with towns and schools that work for everyone.
“Groups call us telling us, ‘There’s a Request for Proposal (RSP) out and we want you to respond to it’,” DeVellis says. “It’s a phenonemon that’s been taking off over the past decade,” he says. “We’re riding the wave, and the towns we’re in appreciate it.”
Town of Wellesley and ESG
One of their current projects is the Wellesley Sport Center, a massive 130,000 sq. ft. which will be housing twin rinks, swimming pools, a turf field, fitness, strength and conditioning areas as well as concessions. This is a public-private partnership between ESG and the Town of Wellesley, MA, , slated for opening in the spring of 2019.
The Town brought the land to the table: the Center is being built on land where a church once was. ESG responded to, and was awarded the RFP and negotiated a 50-year land lease — taking the control, construction and future operation out of the hands of the Town. In return, the Town, its high school and youth sports groups, will be given first pick for time slots – rented at market rates. Any leftover slots will be available for rent to outside groups. Town residents will be given preferred use, and the Town will benefit from property taxes from the venue, estimated at $200,000/year.
“Most towns are spending money building fire stations and schools,” DeVellis says. “Sports facilities are a needed asset — but they’re also a luxury many towns can’t afford. That’s why partnering with us makes so much sense. By privatizing these types of facilities by and having us work hand-in-hand with existing recreation programs, we’re able to provide not only a facility, but a partner.”
On any project, ESG begins with a feasibility study, ensuring there is enough demand to support a year-round facility with multiple sports.
“Then we design it, work with the lenders to bring in equity, get the permits, build it and bring in an operations team six months in advance to set up the programs.” DeVellis says the programming for a facility like the Wellesley Sports Center will run the gamut, offering activities for all age groups, from hockey to pickleball, lacrosse to walking tracks.
“With any project, we need to be sure the demand is for more than one season and one surface,” says DeVellis. “We also need to understand our audience to offer services that fill their needs, like tutoring and take-home meals for parents. We try to cater to the whole family. We know the sports season isn’t just one month, or just one athlete. It’s the whole family.”
ESG has developed half a dozen facilities so far and each one of them is different. Often ESG will manage the operations but sometimes they put together the employee handbook, hire and train the staff and then hand over the keys.
“All our employees undergo a C.O.R.I. check (Criminal Offender Record Investigation) and are fingerprinted. Safety is critical and background checks are one way we keep our facilities safe. We also keep up on training, use the best technology and look for the best staff.”
The Bottom Line
This summer will mark a turning point for ESG and let them expand their offerings to include large tournaments. By then, they will manage multiple facilities, all within 40 minutes of each other, all in the greater Boston area. That will give them the flexibility they need to run and attract large tournaments to Boston, leveraging their ice hockey development and events partner, The AXE Sports Group, owners of the prestigious Hockey Night in Boston.
And although ESG has a foothold in Massachusetts, they have worked on a wide variety of consulting projects across the country. That includes a multi-purpose rink, indoor turf field and retail in Florida, collaboration with State universities in Nebraska and Arizona and The Golf Club of New England, a 7,673 yard Arnold Palmer-designed championship course on the New Hampshire seacoast.
“We’re in this to turn a profit for our investors,” DeVellis says. “With each one we develop, we redefine our model and, hopefully, our investors agree!”