CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Officials are saying goodbye to a piece of the City of Charleston’s past and setting their sights on the future as they begin to journey further into the $40 billion dollar industry that is sports tourism.

Demolition on the former Macy’s store at the Charleston Town Center Mall has officially begun as to make way for the future Capital Sports Center.

Those behind the effort, city officials and the Kanawha County Commission met for a press conference Thursday afternoon to discuss the next steps and the soon-to-be construction process regarding the projected $80 million endeavor.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin was also on hand at the event. He provided $2 million in Congressionally Directed Spending to help initiate a foundation in the dollars going towards the project.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin

Manchin said he didn’t think twice about investing in something that will generate an even bigger return on investment, adding that it will be even bigger than what the mall brought in during its heyday after opening in 1983.

“Those who remember when the mall first opened, it was the biggest thing that hit West Virginia, thinking that it was right downtown in Charleston, and the excitement that went on and the amount of revenue it generated, and then you see, it’s gone a life cycle,” said Manchin. “What’s going to happen, fairly soon, is going to be bigger than that.”

The city and the commission has also put in $5 million each for the project and they are currently requesting additional federal direct funding.

Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said state leaders are another potential funding source, as well, because they know the benefits such a major sports facility can bring in.

“The state is doing it better than anybody right now right, they are putting more money into travel and tourism than they ever have before because they see the return on investment, and so, it’s going to be lots of different pots,” said Goodwin.

Commissioner Ben Salango said it’s looking to cost about $60 million for phase 1 of the project alone, which covers a significant portion of demolition and preliminary construction in building the around 196 thousand square foot sports center.

Handling the demolition of the Macy’s building, a big portion of where the new facility will go, is Rodney Loftis & Sons. It’s expected to be an ongoing process of about 6 to 8 weeks in getting the building completely torn down.

Following the demolition process will begin the final steps of the architectural and design planning phase being handled by ZMM Architects.

Preliminary designs include around six basketball courts, twelve volleyball, and around eight pickleball courts. In addition, the indoor complex is expected to house wrestling mats, a fitness center, a turf soccer field, a rock-climbing wall, a main gymnasium, and an aquatic center complete with an Olympic-sized pool.

Three floors of the Town Center’s Parking Garage B is also expected to be torn down to fit the aquatic center into the facility.

However, Salango said property acquisition has been creating a hold-up for phase 2 of the project and it continues to be an issue they are still working on.

He said what they didn’t want to do, though, was to delay all of the benefits coming out of phase 1 while they wait to acquire the property.

Ben Salango

“There’s going to be millions and millions of dollars in economic impact, why delay that for years while we negotiate property acquisition,” said Salango.

The Capital Sports Center Committee is also working with Sports Facilities Inc., a nationwide company who helps design major sports complexes like the one being built in Charleston. Goodwin said they know how to make the endeavor be sustainable.

She said, however, that there is already no concern that the sports center will be a success in the city.

“It will be filled and booked before we really even start building this, because there are already companies and organizations saying ‘when is it going to be finalized because we want to host our tournaments there,” said Goodwin.

Manchin said he is committed to helping see the project through until the very end.

He said there are different areas they can tap into to acquire more funding for the project.

“As the transition is going on, we have different opportunities that we’re able to pull from, so we have to search and look for any opportunity that we have, and there’s quite a few,” said Manchin.

Goodwin said with hundreds of teams and thousands of players from across the country making their way to other state’s sports complexes on a regular basis, sports tourism is the future, and the new facility will give the city and state a major piece of that $40 million industry.

She said there is something known as an anchor facility standard, which means that the facility has the capability of hosting some of the biggest tournaments in the country, and that’s something they are striving for with this sports complex. This means, added Goodwin, that looking into anything from how many basketball courts there are, down to where the locker rooms get placed is an important part of the process in getting there.

Amy Shuler Goodwin

“We will never be able to compete on a national level unless and until we have anchor-level facilities, that means eight basketball courts, that means 16 volleyball courts, and we are a stone’s throw away from the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center where we can book more of those events,” she said.

Goodwin said they plan to unveil different but similar design plans for the complex in the next coming weeks as those plans get finalized.

Salango said the sport center’s economic impact is expected to reach the tens of millions.

“All of these big dollar travel sports will be coming to town, and you combine that asset with the assets they already have at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, you can host some of the biggest basketball and some of the biggest volleyball tournaments in the country,” said Salango.

The entire Capital Sports Center project is expected to take around two to three years to complete.