'Magic' is the word for planned Vineland project

Architectural drawing of the initial plans for the Magic Sports Complex.
Architectural drawing of the initial plans for the Magic Sports Complex.
Posted: October 27, 2012

"The wizard has entered the building," someone in the crowd whispered Thursday as Ron Nametko arrived in Vineland's City Council chambers.

It was unclear whether the onlooker was inspired by the appearance of the balding entrepreneur with the Merlin mustache, or if he was a true believer in Nametko's ability to pull off the audacious $350 million project he had traveled to Cumberland County to announce.

Nametko, 63, hopes to create 1,000 jobs in New Jersey's most economically depressed, and largely undeveloped, county by transforming an old sandwash - where silica and other minerals were extracted - into the 288-acre Magic Sports Complex, an athletic facility, hotel-conference center, and recreation venue best described as a city within a city.

"To believe creates the magic," Nametko, of Manchester Township, Ocean County, told nearly 100 people at a late-morning news conference.

Yes, the facility will have training camps and competitive sporting events, he said. But not just for baseball. Soccer, softball, track, tennis, and other sports will have their place, too.

Nametko's build-it-and-they-will-come idea struck him more than a decade ago and was inspired by similar, though smaller-scale, development around the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

And Cooperstown is more out of the way than Vineland, said Nametko, who envisions the Magic complex as an international destination for athletes, families, tourists, spectators, and sponsors.

"I just feel Vineland is ideally suited. But this isn't about me," said Nametko, founder of the Manchester Magic, a travel baseball team for boys. ". . . This project is about taking care of people."

Vineland's chronically high unemployment and strategic location, between the Philadelphia area and Jersey Shore, make it an ideal site, he said.

"I can't solve the entire 14 percent unemployment rate [in the county], but I can bring a thousand jobs to the community," Nametko vowed.

The project will be privately funded, he said, though he would not name any investors or what percent of the project's budget had been pledged. Nametko has partnered with Greg Filipek, a principal in Sora Northeast Development of Sewell, which has served as master redeveloper in Glassboro's $300 million Rowan Boulevard project.

The Magic complex could have an impact of as much as $250 million a year on the local economy, Filipek said.

The pair has invested a considerable sum to propel their dream "this far" - a distance they say includes sales agreements with six property owners, schematic drawings, and submissions to the zoning board for height variances and the state Department of Environmental Protection for permits regarding the fresh water wetlands on the parcel.

The developers hope to begin work next summer. The plan is on the agenda at the Vineland Zoning Board's Nov. 28 meeting.

The complex would be bordered by Route 55 and Lincoln and Sheridan Avenues in the South Vineland section. Plans call for a 10,500-seat Magic Dome arena, a 500-room four-star hotel, and an indoor water park. The hotel would house a 25,000-square-foot conference facility and three restaurants, according to details submitted to the board.

Among the sports facilities would be seven tennis courts, an outdoor track/football field, a dozen baseball diamonds, eight softball fields, and four soccer/lacrosse fields.

Magic Village, next to the hotel, would have dormitory-style accommodations for up to 144 athletes. There would be facilities for special-needs competitors.

A 16,000-square-foot office/fitness center would house an acute-care medical center and a daycare center. There would be a state-of-the-art satellite TV studio, Nametko said.

The project, said the developers, would be built in at least two phases and allow room for expansion.

Hamilton Township, Atlantic County, turned down a similar offer made by Nametko several years ago to build in the Mays Landing section. Environmental and traffic concerns were the stumbling blocks.

But Vineland officials are enthusiastic.

"It's pretty hard to believe that they could get commitments for private funding in these hard economic times," Mayor Robert Romano said. "But we're glad they have. . . .

"The economic impact and the jobs that will be created is going to have a tremendous impact on Cumberland County . . . ," he said. "We will assist them any way we can."

The goal is to create wealth for the city, said Sandra Forosisky, Vineland director of economic development.

That takes job creation, added tax revenue, and attracting visitors who will spend money, "and in this case we have all three of these factors," Forosisky said.

But resident Janice Reale, who attended Thursday's announcement, said she was concerned the center wouldn't serve those who really need it: the children of Vineland's Center City section. The neighborhood, plagued by poverty, is miles from where the complex would be located.

"They're not going to have easy access to it if it's built in South Vineland," Reale said. "I think the developers should do what they can to make sure it serves all income brackets of this community."

Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo

at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at www.philly.com/downashore.

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