WILMINGTON. Professional football is about to return to Wilmington, giving passionate fans a long-awaited homecoming. And this is only the beginning of the sports restoration planned by the organizers.
The United Football League granted USL exclusive rights in Wilmington. The group is creating a USL League One team that will start playing in 2024.
Joining principal investor Scott Sullivan of Cameron Management were UNC Chapel Hill practice professor Chris Mumford, former Wilmington Hammerheads linebacker and FC North Carolina coach Devan Bader as group organizers.
Mumford shared that Wilmington’s support for his former football team, the Wilmington Hammerheads and its youth offshoot, along with the rise of football in the growing region, makes the city ready for a new team.
“The stars are aligned for Wilmingon right now,” Mumford said. “We should have moved here five years ago.”
The Hammerheads have been Wilmington’s USL professional football team for 20 years. In the autumn of 2016, the team moved to the Premier Development League on their own, and they played their last game in 2017 before disbanding.
Mumford, a former UNC Chapel Hill footballer, and his two partners have a “do good, do good” concept. This vision goes far beyond football.
The group doesn’t just open a regular stadium; they plan to build an outdoor community event center. They will not be playing at the old Hammerheads pitch at Legion Stadium permanently, but may use it while the event center is under development. According to Mumford, the stadium is not equipped to meet their needs.
The community-driven vision includes creative spaces, restaurants, large retailers, healthcare systems, and even housing. Mumford stated that they needed at least 40 to 60 acres of land to lay the ground at the competition center. A typical football stadium has an area of no more than 2 acres.
“We want our fans to have easy access,” said Mumford.
They have one place in mind, but said it’s too early to share details.
The plans are centered around football, but will also provide services to support the community around it.
“It’s not about transactions. It’s about relationships,” Mumford said. “You don’t get into the minor league football business to make a lot of money.”
While many ideas are in the brainstorming stage, Mumford pointed to two must-have amenities – a food hall and a beer garden. Two locations will be public and open all year round. Mumford said the spaces will enable local restaurateurs to build their business and the community to interact with the space, even if they are not football fans.
Organizers also want to cheer up local musicians and artists by providing outdoor galleries and venues. Mumford’s goal is to center the murals, each painted on canvas, so that they can be transported to other parts of the city. He looks forward to collaborating with UNCW and even outside exhibitors such as the Van Gogh immersive experience now on display in Raleigh.
As a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Chapel Hill, Mumford said the focus will be on building the infrastructure for low-resource entrepreneurs to succeed.
He explained that the band’s vision lies at the intersection of sports, entertainment and wellness. The latter will be satisfied with the creation of housing estates and providing space for health care systems.
“People like to live near stadiums where there are a lot of restaurants and entertainment,” said Mumford.
After graduating from college football, Mumford worked on Wall Street and lived in Asia for 12 years. According to him, thanks to his work, he fell in love with startups. He was brought back to the world of football by his children, and it was at their many games that he and Duke football coach John Kerr decided six years ago to open the Accelerator School in Morrisville, which combines football training with academic pursuits.
USL to Wilmington plans to hold hearings starting this fall to hear from the community before planning decisions are made.
Many additional amenities and creative choices, including the team’s name and logo, will be determined based on these sessions.
“We can look people in the eye and say we listened to their opinion,” Mumford said.
Session information can be found on the USL to Wilmington website.
Contact journalist Alexandria Sands at email@example.com.
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