Will Tiger Woods, Mike Trout golf course win where other promised projects failed?

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VINELAND — The East Vineland golf course project dangled in public last month appears positioned for success given the resources of its principals, landowner/developer John Ruga and baseball star Mike Trout and design input from golfer Tiger Woods' company.

Trout National - The Reserve would occupy only a portion of hundreds of acres of privately owned land east of South Lincoln Avenue, north of Route 55, and generally otherwise bordered by Sheridan Avenue and Hance Bridge Road.

But creating an entertainment destination in the city’s greener spaces is not a new idea. In fact, it’s a long drive from being even the most ambitious.

Remember the “domed” sports facility that would overlook crowded turf sports fields and full hotels?

How about big-name musicians laying it down outdoors for 10,000 fans, maybe twice that many?

Anyone living in or around Vineland since 2007 might recollect both concepts.

And thanks to one of those proposals, and some forward-looking public officials, 280 acres in that area would pass into government control for future development. The future of that development has turned out to be Ruga.

Mike Trout, Tiger Woods not first big names pitched to Vineland

Headline: “Red Hot Chili Peppers kick off 3-day festival.”

What city official wouldn’t want a piece of that publicity? Back in late 2007, that kind of musical event appeared a real possibility. It didn’t take long before the mood soured, though.

Then-Mayor Perry Barse and concert promoter Melvin Benn broached the idea at a news conference at City Hall in November 2007. The talk was of an annual, three-day music festival.

The pros: International name recognition for Vineland and scads of visitors spending money.

The cons: Traffic, noise, trash.

The idea was to use 570 acres of farmland near the intersection of Sherman Avenue and Hance Bridge Road. A three-day pass would cover parking and camping, with attendance at 10,000 to 20,000 people.

Residential blowback didn’t take long. Neighbors Against Rock Concert Site — NARCS — was organized by mid-January 2008. Members suggested an alternate site, well out of the city. They also suggested a lawsuit.

The festival also became a political issue. With 2008 an election year, clear support from mayoral challengers was missing.

On Jan. 25, 2008, the promoters announced the festival would not happen.

Trout, Tiger course not first sports complex planned for Vineland

The proposed Trout golf course will go into a property where major, private industrial development is several years underway. That situation might be very different, but an epic sports project was suggested for the same area but did not live up to its hype.

The Magic Sports Complex was revealed in October 2012 to Vineland residents. Its management team secured City Hall for the official announcement, and it was major news.

The proposed Magic Sports amenities included: 12 baseball fields; eight softball fields; four soccer/lacrosse fields; and seven tennis courts and volleyball courts.

A separate facility, Magic Village, would house athletes. Magic Arena could seat 10,500 people and a dome over its track and sports fields; a dozen basketball courts; a conference center; broadcasting facilities; medical services; and restaurants.

There also was mention of a 5-star hotel, for athletes’ families. A 13-week span over the summer would see the most intense use.

Ron Nametko, founder and president of Magic Sports Complex of NJ, talks to the public and media about the project during the press announcement at Vineland City Hall. PHOTO: Oct. 25, 2012.
Ron Nametko, founder and president of Magic Sports Complex of NJ, talks to the public and media about the project during the press announcement at Vineland City Hall. PHOTO: Oct. 25, 2012.

Price: $300 million to $350 million.

Timeline: Phase one construction to start summer 2013.

Magic Sports Complex got as far as a municipal Zoning Board review, earning approval at a long December 2012 hearing.

Trouble surfaced when developers missed an August 30, 2013 deadline to buy 248 acres from South Jersey Industries. The project also needed to separately buy privately owned land.

Developers got an extension to the deadline, but they also missed that one. In October 2013, South Jersey Industries canceled the prospective sale but said it would be open to new talks.

In early 2017, Vineland and the Cumberland County Improvement Authority teamed up to buy the utility-owned land for a little more than $3 million. Vineland Mayor Anthony Fanucci and CCIA Executive Director Gerard Velazquez III had an idea for a smaller sports complex than Magic might work.

However, a year later, the city and CCIA reached a deal to sell 280 acres for about $4 million to Ruga for a proposed industrial park.

Joe Smith is a N.E. Philly native transplanted to South Jersey more than 30 years ago, keeping an eye now on government in South Jersey. He is a former editor and current senior staff writer for The Daily Journal in Vineland, Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, and the Burlington County Times.

Have a tip? Reach out at jsmith@thedailyjournal.com. Help support local journalism with a subscription.

This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: Mike Trout golf course not first big idea sold to Vineland NJ