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A soccer stadium grows in Statesboro
Tormenta to play first game at Old Register site in May or June
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Construction continued Wednesday for the Publix Supermarket at the same time bleachers were being installed on Optim Sports Medicine Field at Tormenta Stadium, shown in the background. Tormenta hopes to play its first game on the stadium field May 28. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

At the end of May, possibly early June, lights from the first game ever to be played at Tormenta Stadium will illuminate the soon-to-open Publix Supermarket, its neighbor on Tormenta Way.

To be precise, the game will be played on Optim Sports Medicine Field in phase one of construction of Tormenta Stadium, which won’t be completed until 2023.

Still, a Publix opening in Statesboro and a soccer stadium being built off Old Register Road sometimes seemed like distant dreams that would always remain in an elusive future.

But they are now real: A stadium is going up and a Publix is being built.

Darin Van Tassell, a founder and current president of South Georgia Tormenta FC and a lead investor in the overall development that includes Publix, gave me a tour last week of the stadium site and offered a timetable from when Tormenta may play that first game to the construction of the entire stadium complex.

The stadium was originally proposed in May 2017, with the hope of being completed in 2020. Delays, however, caused by infrastructure approval, permitting, construction and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic, kept pushing back the actual building of the stadium.

But, with the widening of Old Register Road, the finishing of Tormenta Way, and the full cut through of Akins Boulevard from the Georgia Southern campus across the bypass and into the paved intersection of Tormenta Way, everything was in place at the end of 2021 for Publix to begin construction and the stadium to follow right behind.

Yet, Van Tassell and Tormenta had made the commitment to begin play at the stadium site in the 2022 and promoted that plan the entire off-season. At the same time, they also knew they couldn’t meet that pledge by the opening game of the 2022 League 1 season, which is Saturday evening.

 

Building in two phases

“We decided to build it largely in two phases,” Van Tassell said. “First is to get to a point as fast as we can so we can begin play on the stadium field. We hope by the end of May we’re out here. If we can go earlier, we’ll go earlier.”

The stadium site currently looks like a giant flat crater has been dug out of the old Hackers driving range site. Thousands of tons of dirt have been moved to create the soccer playing surface. Stakes with red flags indicate each of the four corners of the field, which will be a full professional size at 120 yards long by 80 yards wide.

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Workers install bleachers at the Tormenta stadium site on Tuesday, March 29. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

On what will be the visitors’ sideline, an approximately 80-yard by 50-foot wide concrete slab was poured where bleacher seating for 2,500 is being put together and will be the primary seating area for the 2022 season. The small bleacher sets from the Erk Russell Park field, where Tormenta has played all its home games since 2016, will be moved to the end lines for seating, as well.

“To play on the stadium site, we’ve got to get a field to play on,” Van Tassell said. “We’ve got to have places to sit. Lights, a scoreboard. We’ll have a temporary press box and some temporary locker rooms. And we do think we’ll be there by May 28.”

Prior to May 28, Tormenta has home matches scheduled for Saturday, followed by April 16, May 7 and May 21. The next home match after May 28 is June 19.

If the stadium field and site are not ready to play host to a game May 28, Van Tassell said, “We are fortunate to have a great field to play on at Erk Russell Park, and Georgia Southern continues to be so gracious to us.”

When games begin being played at Optim Sports Medicine Field by Tormenta’s teams in USL League 1, USL League 2 and the inaugural season of Tormenta’s women’s pre-professional team in the debut of the USL W League, stadium construction and work around the entire complex will continue throughout the season.

 

Original stadium plans

When initial plans of building a soccer stadium were being formulated, Van Tassell and his development group always knew the site had to be more than just a place to watch sporting events. It needed to be a place for entertainment, music, shopping and dining. Even a place to live. It needed to be a center of vibrant activity at any time of the year.

And, when complete, the 5,300-seat stadium itself will look very much like the original drawings first unveiled in July 2017. But the original concepts for the buildings immediately adjacent to the stadium have changed significantly.

A three-story building on one end that was originally going to be Tormenta team offices and perhaps a physician’s office will now be only living space.

“Three stories of condominiums and apartments all looking out onto the field,” Van Tassell said.

That is what real estate professionals and others convinced him and his partners was the smartest use of the space.

A two-story building originally planned next to the three-story building will now be four stories

“The bottom floor will be a team room. Weight room, exercise area. Where the team will eat meals,” Van Tassell said. “Then you’ve got a restaurant on the second floor. The third and fourth floors will be a music venue.”

Also, a walkway leading from The Clubhouse family entertainment center to the stadium will feature a series of small retail shops and, perhaps, a sub shop, Van Tassell said.

 

Project on October 15

When the Tormenta regular season ends October 15, what will the stadium complex look like?

“You’ll see a shell of everything,” Van Tassell said. “Parts may be finished before other parts. The home side stands and overhang will go up pretty fast. What will take the longest are the three and four story-buildings. Our plans are by the start of the 2023 season this is all done. There may be some touch ups and relatively minor things left to do by next year, but it will be mostly finished.”

The Publix development, along with the stadium and Clubhouse area, make up only a 19-acre footprint of longer-term plans to develop 260 acres in the area, Van Tassell said.

But, for now, Tormenta Stadium and Publix are enough. Van Tassell said he always knew the projects would come to fruition, but he understood the public’s frustration with the stops and starts and delays.

Without a hint of bitterness or regret, he said, “Someone is going to be in that new store up there, checking out with a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs and say, “Publix ain’t coming.’”

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