USA gets its first cricket stadium in Lauderhill, FL
Article: Dreamcricket USA. Pictures courtesy: Ganesh Sanap of NCCA/North West Region
"Lauderhill is at the center of a beautiful cricket story," Chandradath Singh told New York Times some years ago, "it is making perhaps the most important and most interesting contribution to what we've been talking about in the U.S. for a long time."
Singh, a former consul for Trinidad and Tobago added, "Cricket is played all over the U.S.A. right now, but it's a secret almost, an underground society."
The Cricket Stadium in Lauderhill is nearing completion
Now the little known town in Florida with a population of 70,000 is bringing cricket to the forefront in America. The stadium project that started off as just an idea more than 10 years ago is finally nearing completion.
The cricket stadium, at the corner of Sunrise and State Road 7, is equipped with 5,000 permanent seats and an embankment that can seat thousands more, and sports a beautiful field of Bermuda grass that can host international cricket.
This cricket stadium, the only one in the United States, is expected to be inaugurated next month.
Located in Florida’s Broward County, Lauderhill was established in 1959 by a developer on the edge of the Everglades. Throughout the 1960s, Lauderhill was a renowned resort and a shopping destination. Its reputation as a premier community was further solidified when entertainer Jackie Gleason made the Inverrary development his home when he hosted the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Golf classic. Lauderhill boasted a tennis complex, a professional golf tournament, two resort hotels and outstanding public recreation facilities.
But over the next 35 years, Lauderhill completely lost the plot. Businesses relocated, leaving abandoned buildings with large empty parking lots and investment diminished and property values stagnated. Lauderhill became a blighted area with a high crime rate.
Some clouds have a silver lining. This town's silver lining was the long line of newcomers to the town. Lauderhill’s newcomers, mostly immigrants from the West Indies brought with them a “can-do” spirit that became infectious. The Caribbean powered revitalization has not gone unnoticed. What began as a small wave has now become something of a phenomenon. By 2005, the city had made giant strides and was named an All-America City.
How did the stadium come about?
Lauderhill's new immigrants brought with them a bit of their culture. In 1996, the Caribbean National Cultural Association launched an annual three-day celebration of Caribbean food and music known as Unite-A-Fest. And there can be no Caribbean Festival without cricket.
That is when the city officials heard of the need for a decent cricket field. "Cricket seemed to be something the community liked to watch and liked to play," City Manager Charles Faranda said. "They were playing in open fields and parking lots."
The Cricket Stadium in Lauderhill
In 2000, when the Broward County government decided on upgrading a vacant industrial lot into a 97-acre public park, Lauderhill requested a recreational field, but "things just snowballed" after that according to Mayor Kaplan. On a trip to Trinidad in 2002, the Mayor and the City Manager visited the Queen's Park Oval. That trip was an eye-opener on the potential for a stadium.
Upon his return, the Mayor joined with the city commissioners to establish the Mayor's Cup. More significantly, the new stadium plan took off. Lauderhill, part of a metropolitan area of more than three million people, realized that it could attract a lot of people if it built a first-class cricket stadium. "There isn't a lot that distinguishes Lauderhill from many other cities," Mayor Richard Kaplan told NY Times soon after. "Cricket is going to put us on the map. Someday Lauderhill is going to be known as the cricket capital of the United States."
"I think a lot of people were sleeping at the wheel with this one," City Manager Faranda said. "Thankfully, I only napped for a while. When I woke up, I saw the potential. I'm totally convinced."
Why can't other cities do the same?
Alas, other cities that had the same opportunity, especially those in New Jersey, New York, and California are still napping! Cities like Edison in New Jersey or Fremont in California could be on the cricket map too. But there are some key ingredients that are missing there.
It is one thing to have a large number of passionate immigrants, it is quite another to harness their spirit and passion into an economic force. It takes vision. It also takes political will, tremendous courage, and leadership to channel that vision. And it takes sustained passion to implement it.
Also notable is the absence of elected officials who support cricket and voters who care about it enough to push for its inclusion on the political agenda. Driving through suburban New Jersey, one can see temple after impressive temple. The morning train from Princeton along the North East Corridor Line of NJ Transit is filled to the brim with passengers that talk non-stop about cricket. But there is as yet no place to play first-class cricket in New Jersey.
The Cricket Stadium in Lauderhill
In Lauderhill, a quarter of its 70,000 residents were born in West Indies according to 2000 census. What differentiates Lauderhill is the fact that the politicians were very supportive from the beginning. In fact, Lauderhill claims the highest percentage of Jamaican-born elected officials anywhere outside of Jamaica - no surprise that it is sometimes called Jamaica Hill.
The administrators here are so positive about cricket that they nearly succeeded in their World Cup '07 bid for Lauderhill. A World Cup committee was formed comprising luminaries like Lance Gibbs, Yagga Rowe, Hazel Rogers (Jamaican councilwoman from an adjoining town) and Chandradath Singh (former T&T consul general). It actually won the ICC designation as the official U.S. bid city!
Funding the stadium
It is no small achievement to fund a stadium project of this magnitude. It helped that this project was a multi-purpose venue with cricket as a focal point. Secondly, the belief was that the stadium could really enhance the tourism potential of the Lauderhill area.
In August of 2000, the idea of creating the Central County Regional Park was unveiled. Broward County voters approved the $400 million State Parks and Land Preservation Bond the same year.
The bond issue authorized spending of $200 million to acquire conservation land and open space. The remaining $200 million was to be spent on refurbishing and updating county parks and acquiring additional land for recreational purposes. This baby was now ready to walk.
In 2004, Mayor Ilene Lieberman of Broward County Commission announced that the Commission and the City of Lauderhill had approved a Master Plan for the Central Broward Regional Park, which was led by Commissioner Joe Eggelletion.
The construction of the $28 million park and stadium began that year. An additional $6 million was allocated to a cultural center and library project on the site.
The pay-off has been quick
Months before the completion of the stadium designed by Jamaican born Victor Haye, the county's and Lauderhill's revitalization plans have borne economic fruit. Lauderhill is seeing a vibrant transformation: property values are increasing, neighborhoods are cleaner and more attractive, and Lauderhill is again a magnet for private investment.
There has been a rise in overall property values. Lauderhill saw a 12.3 % increase in total property value in 2005. And Lauderhill’s commercially-zoned properties have increased in value by more than 60% in 5 years.
In 2005, Lauderhill won the oldest and most prestigious civic recognition competition in the United States - winning the All-America City from the National Civic League.
The tourism potential
The Cricket Stadium in Lauderhill
A huge tourism windfall lies in store. The Unite-A-Fest has brought in a ton of tourists into the town. Lauderhill has clearly carved itself a niche - it will henceforth be known as America’s Cricket Capital. Albert Tucker, Fort Lauderdale's tourism official told Sun Sentinel in January of 2005 "Multi-cultural tourism is important because that has been an area that many destinations never market to. It's a big market, but we have never really understood the market. I should say we're doing a much better job of understanding the market."
Adding that "the cricket facility in particular is very important because then you're looking into the Caribbean dynamic of the multicultural market. That's a whole new area that we can now market to. Having worked with the city of Lauderhill on the cricket stadium, if you look at the region, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and others in the Caribbean Basin, they want to be here to play cricket. Not only can they come here to play cricket, but they can also shop and do other things. They'd rather have the hub here. Trinidad, for example, would rather have it here than in Jamaica. Jamaica would rather have it here than in Trinidad. The easy sell is to have it in the United States."
When Broward hosted the world championship of netball, a sport that is played in 24 countries two years ago, they saw phenomenal returns from countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, the Bahamas, Jamaica. Cricket, Tucker hoped will enhance the tourism industry in Central Broward and further encourage development.
Is there a schedule for big matches?
"I believe Lauderhill is strategically well-placed," said Faoud Bacchus, Former USA captain, some years ago. "We have all the facilities, hotels and attractions and it's only a short plane ride from West Indies." Bacchus played for West Indies in 19 Tests and 29 one-day internationals before moving to Florida in 1988.
Lance Gibbs, the West Indies cricket legend who now lives in Florida, is not overly worried about gaining fans from other sports. International cricket could be played here and there is enough interest among the cricket followers in USA, some 30,000 play the game in USA and thousands went to the Caribbean for the World Cup.
There is also the prospect of attracting international cricketers for pre-season practice. "We're hoping to have teams coming out here to train during the English winter," Gibbs told a local newspaper. Some years ago, the English team had to travel to far-off South Africa for its training to avoid the harsh English weather.
How about getting Americans to play cricket? "Youngsters are starting to catch on to it, especially those from the Third World with a cricketing background. We could start them off and then blend Americans into it."
Already, there is a buzz about the stadium in the West Indies. The cities of Falmouth in Trelawny and Lauderhill formally became sister cities in September of 2006.
Jamaican national Dale Holness, Vice Mayor and City Commissioner of Lauderhill, hopes that this will foster better relations in the areas of sports, culture, education and health. "We (City of Lauderhill) will be able to provide a gateway to endless economic developments, including international cricket tournaments, national netball competitions, state football competitions and interna-tional soccer games," he told Jamaica Gleaner last year.
Arial view of the Stadium nearing completion