Carrie Rengers

Wichitan Rodney Steven to take over development of Goddard aquatic center, sports complex

Rodney Steven stands on land that will become the Goddard Aquatic Center.  Plans for the Aquatic Center have faltered over the years but Steven is confident ground will be broken this fall on the project near the Goddard Walmart.
Rodney Steven stands on land that will become the Goddard Aquatic Center. Plans for the Aquatic Center have faltered over the years but Steven is confident ground will be broken this fall on the project near the Goddard Walmart.

After a couple of false starts over several years, the city of Goddard has a deal to move forward with an approximately $60 million aquatic center and sports complex. And it's Wichitan Rodney Steven II who is going to do it.

"Third time's the charm," city administrator Brian Silcott said. "It made logical sense that we would approach a local and someone that has a track record of successful developments and is familiar with high-quality venues."

Steven, the owner of Genesis Health Clubs, has been somewhat on the sidelines of the project the entire time.

"Timing was right this time around for us," he said. "There's just a lot of opportunity to make a really cool sports complex out there."

The project will be called Natatorium, which is the definition of a place that has a pool. It is on almost 90 acres in the 19800 block of West Kellogg in Goddard.

In addition to overseeing construction of the 60,000-square-foot aquatic center and four baseball fields, which are part of a $30 million STAR bonds project, Steven also will build a Genesis that's between between 12,000 and 15,000 square feet, a pre-school and soccer fields that he will finance.

He's not sure how many fields yet, but Steven said that "it's going to be a large soccer complex."

"It's so busy in town to find soccer right now."

There will be concessions for the soccer and baseball fields, covered seating, stadium seating and lighting.

Steven also is planning to start a youth summer sports program. That's something he's implementing through his Wichita Genesis clubs, too, and it is "taking off like crazy."

Plans still call for a hotel at the development, and Steven may be the one to build it.

"We're evaluating our involvement right now."

The opportunity to do another Genesis was not the immediate appeal for Steven, he said. It's the overall project.

"You're talking one of the largest aquatic centers in the state and probably the region," Steven said. "This is going to be almost an Olympic training center. We're going to make it to Olympic standards."

There will be a 50-meter pool, which compares to 25-meter pools at Genesis clubs, and springboard diving capabilities. There will be 600 seats for viewing.

Goddard Mayor Jamey Blubaugh said it will be a regional if not national draw that the city estimates will have a $236.5 million annual impact and bring 404 new jobs along with new businesses.

"It's going to explode from here with community development and entertainment venues," Blubaugh said. "It's hard for people to understand because we don't have anything like this."

Goddard Destination Development, which is lead by Kansas City developer Rick Worner, is the master developer for the project. Funding and other issues with subdevelopers have led to a couple of deals falling apart.

With each deal, the project has changed somewhat. Although the aquatic center has been downsized from original plans, Silcott said he is thrilled that the project now includes a health club, among other things.

"We are grateful and thankful for the unanswered prayers with what happened," he said.

Steven said he's watched some small athletic clubs fail in Goddard, but he said he thinks they were possibly ahead of their time.

"This is a good opportunity to come into the market," he said. "I see it as a lot of west Wichita, too."

Steven has six children and travels to the area for sports.

"It seems like it's becoming part of Wichita now."

Steven said he's been interested in southwest Wichita for some time.

"It's growing."

However, he's "had an extremely busy last three years."

Three years ago, the number of Genesis Health Clubs doubled, and then they doubled again a year and a half ago.

Five years ago, Steven's clubs employed 700 people. Now, he has 3,300 employees.

Today, there are 45 Genesis clubs in five states, including Colorado where Steven most recently ventured.

Now, he's got to turn his attention to Goddard.

"We have to start it very quickly according to the contract," Steven said.

The site plan needs approval by July, and construction is to start between September and December.

"We're excited to partner with him to improve the quality of life not just of Goddard but of west Wichita and Sedgwick County," Silcott said. "We will be the destination for . . . family-oriented, active lifestyles."

Blubaugh said he believes the project finally will happen.

"We've had our ups and downs, but it seems like these guys are coming in to help finish it for us."

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com.
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