BELLVILLE — The Ashland County Community Foundation has donated $1 million to a $22 million sports complex being planned by the YMCA of North Central Ohio.

Chriss Harris, a YMCA board member and director of the effort to raise funds for the facility near the intersection of I-71 and Ohio 97, made the announcement Thursday morning while meeting with Richland County commissioners.

The complex will feature a fitness center, arcade, soccer fields, walking track, volleyball, basketball and pickle ball. Outside, there will be seven outdoor soccer fields, pavilions, and a walking trail.

The YMCA is seeking public and private donations for the project, which Harris said will produce local revenue of $8 to $10 million annually for the local economy. In terms of cost, she said it will be the largest investment ever for a traditional, non-profit organization in the area.

Harris said the ACCF has a special fund established by a donor from Richland County, who asked the foundation to consider the donation.

“This prominent Mansfield area family asked the Ashland Foundation to consider this. And they did,” Harris said.

Ashland County Community Foundation logo

In a statement, James Cutright, ACCF president and CEO, acknowledged the proposed 100,000-square foot facility will benefit residents from around the region and beyond.

“The Ashland County Community Foundation is privileged to hold the assets of a prominent Richland County family foundation, which has pledged $1 million of support to jumpstart this important project,” Cutright said.

“We know that many individuals of all ages, in a multi-county region, will benefit from the recreational and educational resources this facility will provide. We’re pleased we could facilitate this generous gift on behalf of our donor,” Cutright said.

Cristen Gilbert, the CEO for the YMCA of North Central Ohio, praised the donation for the new complex.

“The Y’s mission is to create opportunities where all people, especially youth, are encouraged to develop their fullest potential in mind, body and spirit,” Gilbert said.

“An investment in this project is an investment in our children.

“We’re so pleased with this generous donation from the Ashland County Community Foundation and believe this is the first step in making this sports complex a reality,” Gilbert said.

When plans for the indoor/outdoor complex were formally announced in September 2022, officials estimated the cost would be around $15 million. Harris said Thursday that estimate has risen around 47 percent, largely due to the costs of outdoor fields.

“When we sat down and thought about soccer fields, I didn’t have a good feel for it,” Harris said. “When we mashed the numbers around, we were looking more at the building.

“We wanted to make sure the building itself had every single thing. That’s where we are focusing. We really kind of thought maybe we can do these fields for a million, a million and a half or something. And then we find out that it’s way more complicated than that.

“And these big tournaments, they want specialty specialty fields. They want more fields than what we originally had thought. We thought we’d start with a few fields. Now we’ll have to put the whole thing in and there’ll be more fields, more complex,” Harris said.

Retired Mansfield industrialist James Gorman offered nearly 35 acres of land to build the complex.

Harris said organizers would like to have $15 million raised by the end of October. That would allow ground to be broken in November and an opening date of February or March in 2025.

“That would be the perfect scenario for this. But again, it’s whether we can raise the funds. We have everything from state dollars to local dollars to general donor dollars to contribute in this.

“This is a great project. It will benefit many, many organizations and counties and residents and businesses here. So it’s a huge benefit. I think everyone that I’ve spoken with realizes how big this really is,” she said.

She said organizers plan to kick off a local fundraising drive for local residents this summer, perhaps with a kick-off event at the site of the proposed new facility.


The leader of a Columbus-based economics and strategy firm has said the complex will create “a big boost” to the local economy.

“A sports center of this size with indoor and outdoor activities will attract 35,000+ visitors and their dollars to the area every year and add 100 jobs,” William Lafeyette, owner of Regionomics, said in September.

“The ripple effects will benefit businesses and households throughout the county and increase tax revenues,” he said.

Donated land

Harris said she has “a lot of irons in the fire” in terms of fundraising locally, around the state and nationally.

“I am hopeful that we’ll be able to bring some of these to final signing so that we can move forward by mid fall. And then Randy Payne and the Adena Corporation can break ground and we can celebrate that.

“That’s my plan. And then all next year, of course, we’ll continue to work to finish the job,” Harris said.

She also told commissioners that the Nickel and Bean coffee shop of 27 E. Main St. in Lexington is the first business to agree to lease space in the sports complex building.

Harris said specially-designated spaces inside the sports complex will be available for lease.

“Almost four years ago, we set out as a family to start a coffee shop in Lexington to fill that need in our hometown,” said Nicky Wong, who with his wife, Shellie Webster Wong, is one of the business’ owners and manager.

The Lexington location for Nickel and Bean will remain as the coffee enterprise expands to the new YMCA facility.

“We had a vision of creating a space that embodies history and small-town roots,” said Wong, whose business is located in a restored Lexington building that is one of the village’s oldest.

“It’s a place to share stories and laughter, while embracing progress and growth,” he said.

Lexington natives Stacie Webster Elkhoury and her brother, Dr. Stephen Webster, are Nickel and Bean partners with the Wongs. They are Shellie Wong’s siblings.

“This is such an incredible privilege to announce our alliance with the YMCA of NCO and its newest commitment to the area,” Elkhoury said.

“We are honored to share space with an organization that so closely holds the same traditions and family values as we do,” she said.

Chuck Hahn, Cleveland Financial Group, invests in this independent reporting through a Newsroom Partnership. Learn more about Newsroom Partnerships.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when...

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