An old strip mine property behind Route 56 in Paint Township could soon be a $3 million field of dreams.
A Somerset man outlined plans to Windber Area school board that detailed a state-of-the-art indoor/outdoor sports facility on the nearly 30-acre tract, complete with a cloverleaf of four turf baseball fields and an indoor sports complex large enough for year-round Little League games, soccer and even football.
The project’s architect, Greg Tunstall, said Tuesday that he and two partners, former minor league ballplayers who now run ERA Sports, which has an office in Richland Township, hope to break ground in May on what they have dubbed the Iron Horse Sports Complex.
They envision a site that would not only serve as an all-weather, year-round training hub for Johnstown, Greensburg, Altoona and State College athletes, but also draw the nation’s top travel baseball clubs.
“There are only 20 or 30 facilities like this in the nation, and they are major destinations for travel leagues and tournaments,” said Tunstall, an engineer and co-owner of the environmental construction firm Entact LLC, which has an office in the Latrobe area. "Our intention is to be part of that Top 20 list."
“This,” he said, pointing to project plans, “is going to take away the competitive edge that teams in the South have had for decades. In 15 years, this area is going to be seeing a lot more Division I ballplayers and minor leaguers because of what we’re bringing.”
ERA Sports’ Rick Roberts, a Forest Hills graduate and former Dodgers minor leaguer, and Mike Connelly, a former Pirates draft pick who played for the Altoona Curve and other Pittsburgh farm teams, will run the facility, Tunstall said.
“They have the background … and they have contacts in pro baseball,” he said, noting pro days and team tryouts are envisioned.
“It sounds terrific,” board member Tim Tokarsky said, noting the district may be able to work out a deal to use the fields instead of developing its own.
Tunstall said the funding is in place to get work underway this spring.
Paint Township Supervisor Joe Huff Jr. said preliminary plans were approved by the township’s planning commission and they are awaiting final plan submissions.
“This is going to be great for the whole area,” Huff said, saying it would become a tourism engine.
David Hurst covers the Windber area for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tddavidhurst.