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The gate to the new $20 million Cone Health ZooCity Sportsplex complex.   Eric Abernathy/Randolph Hub

Come on in!

Ray Criscoe

Randolph Hub


ASHEBORO —  It’s been four years in the making construction-wise, 17 years since the City of Asheboro began buying land for it, at least 28 years since talk about such a concept began.


But, as of Saturday, May 4, the Zoo City Sportsplex — now officially the Cone Health ZooCity Sportsplex after Cone Health spent $5 million for the sponsorship rights for 25 years — is officially open.


That first day began auspiciously, with rain forcing an expected gathering on the championship field into a nearby covered shelter area.


Despite the weather, more than 100 people showed up for opening remarks and the ribbon cutting, for the unveiling of Cone Health as the complex’s sponsor, for thanks going out to all those who donated money, energy, time, resources, political pull and more. (And there’s room for more naming rights donations, officials noted.)


It was all needed to get this complex up and running, and the ringleaders behind it swear it will be worth it.


“This is about a $20 million complex. The State of North Carolina put together two and a half million dollars for this project because it is an economic driver for our region,” said NC Sen. Dave Craven of Randolph County, who, along with NC Reps. Brian Biggs and Neal Jackson, as well as previous office holders, helped secure those funds.


“We’re going to have a lot of folks coming here to play ball, do things, stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, visiting our North Carolina Zoo,” Craven said. “We are expanding our zoo, adding the Asian continent, that’s about an $80 million investment the state made. 


“This segues with the zoo to make sure we’ve got folks visiting this area and spending their hard-earned dollars right here and putting sales tax dollars in the Randolph County coffers and the state, which saves all of us on our property taxes.”


Asheboro Mayor David Smith thanked many on the day, but gave a “personal thank you” to Asheboro City Manager John Ogburn: “John’s perseverance in this project is the reason we’re all sitting here today. It would have been real easy to say, ‘Oh we can’t do that. That’s too much money.’ John said to me, “Let’s see how we can get that done.’ ”


Smith noted that the 85-acre park was designed in-house by the city’s engineering staff, not an outside firm. He also gave a special nod to Terry Tucker, owner of Terry’s Plumbing & Utilities, a company that Smith said also does a lot of grading and construction work. 


“Everything you look at is what it is because Terry Tucker built this place like it was his,” Smith said.


So, what’s there?

Smith said the park is “99.9something percent” complete. The last piece to be finished is the dog park, which will have separated sections for large and small dogs.


Otherwise, here’s what’s on hand:

- Eight full-size, all-weather, artificial turf fields, all lighted, with stands for seating, built to host football, soccer and lacrosse games and tournaments.

- Six beach volleyball courts, four pickleball courts, a 1.5 mile paved walking trail, a fenced in children’s playground.

- Bathrooms and concessions buildings on both the upper and lower levels of the complex, an outdoor Fitness Center area with a dance/jazzercise class-sized surface, sheltered picnic tabled areas dotted throughout, and nearly 700 parking spaces.


The average Joe

There’s been a lot of talk all along about the grand concepts: The complex as an economic engine, money-making soccer tournaments, sponsorships and links with the North Carolina Zoo.


But how does the average Joe fit in? The guy who wants to get in the car with three of his friends and go throw a football on a big ol’ turf field, maybe see how far he can kick a field goal. Can he do that?


Here are some nuts and bolts regarding use of the park.


The complex will be open from 8 a.m.-dusk each day. The signs on the two gates say 8 a.m.-8 p.m., but that 8 p.m. may be earlier or later, depending on the time of the year. 


Curfew at the park is actually 11 p.m. so events can go on after dark since the fields can be lit. However, reservations will need to be made and paid for to use lighted fields.


Throughout the park, any field can be used by anyone when the park is open unless that field — or pickle ball court, or volleyball court — is reserved. Anyone can reserve a field or court. Reservations are made in one-hour increments ($40 an hour for a turf field, for instance). 


The City of Asheboro’s recreation department — officially known as Cultural and Recreation Services — will manage the park onsite. It is finalizing a fee schedule and working on an app that will handle reservations and show when fields are or are not reserved. Until then, call the recreation office at 336-626-1240 to check on or make a reservation.


Other areas of the park — the walking trail, the kids playground, the Fitness Center area, for instance — are available to all comers, as the dog park will be eventually.


A satisfying endeavor

Parts of the park have already been used frequently. As Randolph County Commission Chairman Darrell Frye noted at one point Saturday: “There’s an old saying, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ They started coming before you finished building it. That’s a great sign.”


Indeed, Smith said “daycares and kindergarten classes in town are bringing their children and their youngest children down here almost daily by bus to wear out some energy on the playground.


“People have been walking on this trail all along. As we paved a little bit, they’d walk down to the end of the pavement, turn around and walk back. It is now finished.


“It’s been a long time coming, but we are there.”


And worth the wait, as throughout the process, Smith has heard his share of doubters.


“I can’t tell you many times I’ve been confronted on the street by someone who’d ridden by Zoo Parkway or ridden down Old Cox Road and couldn’t see anything except the Rotary Championship Field up by the gate and said, ‘It’s sinful to spend that kind of money on a soccer field,’ ” Smith said. “I said until you ride in and look around, you just keep thinking that.”


Well, that day’s here. Ride in and look around. The doors are open. See where your lifestyle might fit in.


“Come and enjoy it,” Ogburn said. “Take advantage of it.”