HOOKSETT — Teams were itching to hit the field immediately after the NH Sportsdome received its certificate of occupancy, the owners of the bubble-like sports complex say.
The air-supported structure on Benton Road, just off Route 3, is limited to practices, scrimmages and training sessions for now.
On Monday morning, the business celebrated the grand opening of the $6.3 million facility with a visit from Gov. Chris Sununu. Owner Joel Hatin and other partners plan to open a second location in Goffstown later this year, hoping to capitalize on heavy demand when pandemic restrictions ease.
“We realized our region lacks the necessary facilities to provide a state-of-the-art training location for youth, young adults and adults programs alike,” he said. “The result is many programs are left with little choice with respect to finding adequate space to train with their teams.”
The bubble covers a collegiate-sized artificial-turf soccer field without a need for support beams. The air cycles through the facility every two hours.
The space can be used for all sports, but so far it has mostly been used for flag football, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey. The structure will be inflated year-round and features both heating and air conditioning systems.
The Goffstown location will open at 376 Goffstown Back Road, where radio towers once stood.
“We know after COVID the amount of usage is going to go up and up and up,” Hatin said. A lot of groups have scaled back practices or training to limit their exposure to the virus, he said.
“We know next year when we get back to some level of normalcy they are not going to have enough training space,” he said.
The opening in Hooksett came after a year and half of contentious planning board meetings. The facility is not allowed to host games as part of its approval because of concerns about traffic, but the owners plan to ask the board to reconsider in the future by proving games will not significantly increase the number of cars entering and exiting the property.
The facility opened on Feb. 18 with groups starting that evening.
Town Administrator Andre Garron said he was “blown away” after walking through a vestibule and into the inflatable structure.
“I know it took a lot of hard work and perseverance,” he said.
The structure, manufactured by Ontario-based Farley Group, is 72 feet tall — approximately the distance to the bottom of the massive video screen above the field at Cowboys Stadium in Texas.
“We aren’t worried about anyone hitting the lights,” Hatin said during a tour of the facility. “I tried, but I can’t do it.”
The owners say the dome structure is different from the Hampshire Dome complex in Milford, which was closed for nearly six months after collapsing in March 2017. The field features 2½ miles of artificial turf rolled out across the field, which can be broken down into two smaller fields.“Our rental model is either the full field or half a field and that gives teams plenty of space to practice,” Hatin said.
The business opened with a partnership with Hatin and his wife, Ronda, Frank and Meg Bizzarro and Alden Moore.
The financing came through a combination of Small Business Administration and direct loans with the support of the Capital Regional Development Council and Merrimack County Savings Bank.
“We’ve had such a great response to (Hooksett) and to prospective customers who want to go to Goffstown,” said Frank Bizzarro, chief financial officer. “I don’t think we’re done.”
Stephen Heavener, executive director of Capital Regional Development Council, said the project was proposed before the pandemic and ended up being built in the middle of it.
“Now it’s opening hopefully at the near end of COVID,” he said.
Jennifer Boulanger, CRDC loan officer, said the project was appealing because of its different uses, including youth traveling sports teams.
“The minute they announced it, I knew we had to make it happen,” she said. “There is nothing like it in New Hampshire, and there are very few like it even outside of New Hampshire. It is just remarkable”
During brief remarks, Sununu called the project “awesome, downright awesome.”
“The last year has been tough and has been tough for a lot of folks in a lot of different ways,” he said.
He said New Hampshire businesses have remained resilient through the pandemic. Sununu called the timing symbolic as many say normalcy is nearing as more COVID-19 vaccines are administered daily.
“This isn’t just another building,” Sununu said. “Look at what this is about. This is about having kids come back, socializing and interacting and getting back to normal.”