Hilliard officials welcomed former two-sport professional athlete and Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson Sept. 23 to oversee the groundbreaking for the city's $5.5-million, 114,000-square-foot Bo Jackson's Elite Sports facility.
The facility is expected to open by October 2014 at Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park, 3800 Veterans Memorial Drive. It will be the second location for Bo Jackson's Elite Sports. The first opened in 2008 in suburban Chicago, where Jackson lives.
The Hilliard site has been more than two years in the making.
Mayor Don Schonhardt and Economic Development Director David Meeks visited Jackson in early 2011 to scout the original site and gauge if it was a good fit.
Both were on hand Sept. 23 to celebrate Jackson choosing Hilliard for a second site. Demographics, Jackson said, and a region steeped in sports were among the reasons he chose Hilliard instead of locations in Colorado and Virginia.
Jackson said his staff of former professional coaches and players at the Chicago-area facility have "competed at the highest levels" and strive to "develop the whole kid."
He said his staff members prefer that parents drop children off as opposed to being "sideline coaches."
"We want your child to have our undivided attention. This is what sets us apart from other places," said Jackson, adding that behavior is a factor and adolescents not adhering to the rules of respect for other athletes and the game would not be welcome to return.
"We teach kids to respect themselves, each other and the game," Jackson said.
Numerous officials spoke with Jackson at the groundbreaking, including Schonhardt; Tony Ruscilli, president of Ruscilli Construction Co.; Linda Logan, executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission; and Franklin County Commissioner John O'Grady.
"This development is a game-changer for the city of Hilliard ... and an incredible opportunity that further sets us apart from other communities," Schonhardt said.
Later Monday, Sept. 23, Hilliard City Council made the deal official, voting 6-0 to approve a ground lease between the Hilliard and Bo Jackson's Elite Sports.
In exchange for providing the city with 40 hours per week for its programs, scheduled so as not to conflict with the peak hours for private uses, the city will reduce the lease amount to $100 a year.