The new owner of the former Mercyhurst North East campus is partnering with the Erie Sports Center to manage fields and facilities on the 70-acre property.
Ehrenfeld Companies, or eCos, said in a statement that after researching the needs of the North East community it determined that the Erie Sports Center, formally known as Erie Bank Sports Park and originally as Family First Sports Park, was "uniquely qualified" to manage the property's fields and facilities.
"The partnership with Erie Sports Center on the North East campus will allow eCos to further develop synergies for S.P.I.R.E. across all sports," the company said in its statement. "Alignment with Erie Sports Center provides an opportunity to continue to grow the athletic competition and program host offerings in the Erie community. ECos’ commitment to partnering with local community businesses and being an agent for good in the community aligns with Erie Sports Center’s vision of using sports to make a difference in people's lives."
Keeping a local connection
Ehrenfeld Companies acquired the property in late January for $4.5 million. It is a subsidiary of Blue Ocean Investments, a Baltimore-based real estate firm that owns, among other things, S.P.I.R.E. Institute & Academy in Geneva, Ohio.
"From the moment we met the eCos leadership team on campus, we realized they had a very similar culture and philosophy," said Troy Bingham, the owner of Erie Sports Center. "We need to stay commercial, but there is a strong driving force for us to make a difference in the community. With our facility quickly reaching capacity constraints and our need for more space to accommodate our various clubs, it made great sense to partner with eCos to grow our footprint and brand. We look forward to doing many more projects with Jonathan (Ehrenfeld) and his team."
Ehrenfeld said he's excited to be working with Bingham and Erie Sports Center.
“He brings tremendous expertise and passion to the sports business and community development," Ehrenfeld said in a statement. "There is a great opportunity to bring more sporting events, competition, and new sports from the region and the country, given our partnership and combined service and space offerings.”
In September, Bingham and Sheldon van Deventer, who grew up in the same neighborhood in South Africa and went to Gannon University on soccer scholarships, formed Erie Sports Investments, which was one of two separate for-profit buyers that bought a portion of ErieBank Sports Park from Greater Regional Erie Athletic Team Training, a nonprofit group.
Erie Sports Investments bought about 30 acres, including what had been known as the Golf Dome, a dozen outdoor soccer fields and the former Fun Zone.
The second buyer was a local group doing business as BBT Hockey LLC, which took ownership of the main ErieBank Sports Park fieldhouse, which includes two hockey rinks and basketball courts.
Details on the plan
As for the Mercyhurst North East campus, the university put it up for sale in August of 2019 amid declining enrollment and after an 18-month feasibility study. It transferred most of the courses taught in North East to its main campus at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, which was earlier than planned because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The remaining courses offered in North East, including nursing, were transferred following the 2020-2021 academic year.
Ehrenfeld said in January that he was attracted to the "unique features, history and location" of Mercyhurst North East. His company named Mercyhurst graduate Bill Unger the director of operations.
Unger previously worked as director of environmental services for Crothall Healthcare in the Buffalo, N.Y. area.
S.P.I.R.E. Institute & Academy operates sports programs for high school, college and graduate students at its Geneva home.
Although Ehrenfeld Companies has yet to say how it will specifically use the North East campus, a grant application submitted to the state by the borough of North East and obtained by the Erie Times-News through a Right-to-Know request show that, in addition to athletics, there have been discussions about using the campus for a culinary school and a performing arts curriculum.
The application for a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, which has not yet been approved, sought money for building renovations and the construction of a new, state-of-the-art sports complex.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: New owner of Mercyhurst North East partners with Erie Sports Center