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Empire Sportsplex Levels the Playing Fields

Empire Communities sees a responsibility to build up municipalities outside of the borders of its developments, says Mark Tutton, Empire’s president of Low Rise.

“This is just the sort of thing that can happen. We make every community we build in better and slowly, piece by piece, make the world a better place,” he said. He made the comments before the official opening of the new Empire Sportsplex in July.

The sprawling sportsplex, adjacent to the Welland International Flatwater Centre is home to multiple courts that can host pickleball, tennis, basketball, volleyball and more. It’s also home to inclusive courts built by Canadian Tire Jumpstart and Empire, which can host a variety of sports for people of all abilities. “I haven’t seen anything like this anywhere else,” said Tutton. “There’s nothing on a scale like this, and open to as wide a number of users. This is a first for us,” said the housing developer who has built golf courses and community amenities throughout his career.

“This city [Welland] had a desire to put this facility in place. They asked us to devote some of our parkland contribution to this effort, and we happily agreed.” Tutton said while built for Welland residents, he can see broader use of the facility because of some of the built-in aspects, such as the inclusive courts.

Scott Fraser, president of Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, said one of the organization’s big pushes since being founded in 2005 is inclusive play. “When we found out about this opportunity here, we realized what a great opportunity it would be for us to provide additional resources for children. To have accessible areas to play basketball and tennis and use the court spaces in whatever way they could,” said Fraser.

“We want to promote the importance of getting out and staying active. Every child deserves a chance, and great things can happen if they get that opportunity,” said Fraser.

Jeff Tiessen, Managing Director at ParaSport Ontario, said the importance of the inclusive courts is that they were not an afterthought. “It was built as part of the design, with everyone in mind. That’s design and desire. That comes with the feeling of belonging and community,” said Tiessen, a three-time Paralympian.

Tiessen and his team of more than a dozen staff and para-athlete ambassadors were on hand at the facility’s Grand Opening to showcase five different parasports throughout the day, including wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, boccia, sitting volleyball and sledge hockey. “People with disabilities want to be active too, and the Empire Sportsplex is a welcoming place to make that happen.”

Rob Axiak, Welland’s director of community services, agreed, emphasizing that the Sportsplex will bring the community together. “The accessible and inclusive aspect will be a regional draw for people with varying interests and abilities.”

As reported by Dave Johnson, a St. Catharines-based reporter for the Welland Tribune. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveJTheTrib.

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