SOMERSWORTH – The Hilltop Fun Center has been a staple of the community since it opened in 1986. Now there are big plans in his back yard where a sports dome will become one of the largest indoor sports facilities on the seashore.
The sports dome is expected to open in 2022 with an area of 135,000 square meters and will offer two football fields worth playing turf for the whole year, several sports for all age groups. It is considered an ideal neighbor for the Hilltop Fun Center on Route 108 with its go-karts, miniature golf, batting cages and an arcade.
Brian Cote, owner of the Hilltop Fun Center, sold the driving range land to Craig Riotto, director of the New England Sports Hub, and forged a relationship he believes will benefit both companies and make them a destination for sports and make recovery.
Cote said the need for transformation at the Hilltop Fun Center dates back to 2014. It was then that he bought the family business that had belonged to his late brother Steve. The revenue from the golf driving range had “fallen by the wayside” from its peak in the 1990s. Cote said this was driven primarily by increased competition from The Oaks golf course, which opened 4.7 miles on Route 108 along with other courses and driving ranges across the area. He only found a solution years later.
The coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020 and a storm severely damaged the network and cables along the Hilltop Fun Center’s driving range. The repair would have cost $ 50,000, which made no financial sense.
“That was when Craig Riotto and his team came to me to buy the land for this Sportdome project. I realized that sometimes things should be like that,” said Cote. “He reminds me of me 20 years ago, he’s as passionate about my business as I am. I knew I wanted to do that.”
‘Extraordinary Indoor Sports Complex’:Somersworth Sports Dome receives approval
The land contract has been signed and Riotto, a former Somersworth Middle School basketball coach, is now working to create a 30-meter-high, enclosed sports and fitness facility. In June, Riotto received approval of the site plan from the city planning department, paving the way for the further development of the project.
“The possibilities to configure this space are limitless,” said Riotto. “It’s a place where you go in, but still feel like you’re outside: with powerful lights that cast and reflect the interior and fill the entire room with luminescent, indirect brightness.”
The inflatable dome offers enough space to accommodate training areas for baseball, soccer, football, softball, lacrosse or field hockey and other sports. Cote sees great benefits in that youth teams are drawn to the sports dome and also visit the Hilltop Fun Center for its arcades and games.
“I remember saying to Craig, ‘You have to be prepared because we’re going to throw this out of the damn ballpark,'” said Cote. “I see him not just as a neighbor, but more as a partner, because the synergy between my business and the future sports dome is so strong.”
In addition to the lawn, there will be a virtual golf lounge with eight video golf simulators and a bar area, a snack bar, multi-purpose rooms, toilets and an area for speed and agility training. When there are no games or exercises, the lawn can be converted into a 170-meter driving range.
“You can hit live balls on the 170-yard course and then play 18 holes in the lounge,” said Riotto.
Find the right place in Somersworth
The sports dome has been in production for three years. Riotto examined properties in the tri-cities and said the search was the “most elaborate part of the development process”. A conversation with his former teacher and mentor Dana Hilliard turned Riotto’s gaze to Somersworth, where Hilliard is mayor and school administrator.
“Without Mayor Hilliard’s patience, vision and understanding of the area, who knows if or when we would have examined Somersworth’s business district so closely?” said Riotto. “There are tons of variables that go into determining the right location for a business like this. You want it to be accessible, near the freeway, hotels, restaurants, and shops. That ticked all of those boxes.”
Mayor of Somersworth:Dana Hilliard is aiming for the 5th term and is running against City Councilor Crystal Paradis
After a 112 acre lot behind Home Depot in Somersworth failed to work, he stumbled upon the Cote property and knew it would be the future home of the Sports Dome.
“When we realized that Brian’s driving range could hold anything we wanted to build, it was this classic story that quickly led to the next,” said Riotto. “It took patience, diligence and working with the right people to make this happen. Now that the plans are solidifying, we really look forward to exploring ways to maximize synergies.”
Hilliard said he was “beaming with pride” that the project is getting closer and closer to reality.
“This is a big turning point for Somersworth,” said Hilliard. “It reflects how this community continues to move in the right direction.”
What it means for local sports teams
Matt Caffelle, president of the ROSO Soccer Club, said the sports dome is a great opportunity for athletes in the area to have a state-of-the-art sports complex in their garden.
Seacoast United has indoor turf facilities in Hampton and Epping where many local teams of all ages play soccer, field hockey, lacrosse and more. Some travel longer distances to places like the New Hampshire Sports Dome in Hooksett or the Hampshire Dome in Milford.
The Somersworth facility provides a closer option for teams in the Tri-City area.
“This opens up participation by allowing families to essentially walk down the street for a 50-minute game rather than driving for 40 minutes to an hour one way,” said Caffelle.
The room can be divided with mobile networks so that several games or several sports can take place at the same time.
“Even with two 7v7 football games for adults, a 5v5 U12 game (up to 12 years old) and a 5v5 U10 game (up to 10 years old) we can still do one Have full-size baseball diamonds running with six batting cages, ”said Riotto.
When set up for baseball, the dome can accommodate two full fields, two infields, and batting cages. Riotto calls it “a one-of-a-kind indoor baseball experience”.
“They can warm up and run their infield, take a few swings in the batting cages, and then jump into one of our two full-size fields and play a live baseball game in the middle of winter,” said Riotto.
Caffelle said that being able to do sports year round also keeps athletes fit, so there is less time to rest when the outdoor season kicks off in spring.
“I train two teams in the fall and three teams this spring, and the first handful of exercises this spring is to really break down the rust after the winter,” said Caffelle.
Riotto said that as a former coach with a love of sports, the most rewarding part of the project is creating a place where coaches, parents and officials can come together and work together to offer unique training opportunities that support the main sports season.
“Some leagues will be competitive, some will be more game and recreational, while others will be specifically tailored to player growth and development,” said Riotto. “We choose the optimal layout of this grass pitch so that we can perfectly meet the needs of the market and the sports programs.
Somersworth’s record numbers:The city is emerging as Seacoast’s next boom town.
Legion Baseball Dover Post 8 coach David Rouleau said the sports dome will play a huge role in making a name for itself for Seacoast athletes.
“We’ve needed something like this in the Tri-Cities area for ages,” said Rouleau. “Having this around will give our players a big head start. Ideally, from January to March we can get the players fine-tuning the basics so that when the school sports season gets hot, the players can shoot all the cylinders. “
Not just a dome, it’s a venue
Somersworth Economic Development Manager Robin Comstock has described the complex as a “huge asset” that Somersworth will market as a visitor destination.
While the complex is primarily for sports, it could also turn into a venue for events, exhibitions, or weddings.
“We had to think about if the demand for indoor lawn naturally subsides because the snow is melting and everyone is outside, how can we remodel this facility and make it something people will still want to visit?” said Riotto.
The answer is to find new uses for it. With playing field tiles, the lawn can be turned into a place for basketball, volleyball or pickleball. With a little planning and a stage, this can become a venue.
“There will be an event component for the sports dome,” said Riotto. “Things like expo events, concerts, festivals and live performances can make this location a regional attraction that catalyzes future economic development.”
Riotto said the Hampshire Dome in Milford has been equally successful with this mindset for two decades.
“This is what we want to bring to Somersworth and the New Hampshire Seacoast, it will be a cultural center as well as a center for sports,” said Riotto.
“Our vision is big”:Little Indonesia Cultural Center opens in Somersworth
Hillard said the opportunities to use the dome as a venue were exciting for the city.
“As a venue, it can be used for events such as graduation ceremonies, but it can also be used as a center for the arts with concerts or conventions,” said Hilliard. “I find it exciting that instead of going over the bridge to celebrate the performing arts in Portsmouth or driving all the way to Manchester or Boston, I can get up the road and stay right here in Somersworth town.”
The sports dome is still more than a year away from reality, according to Riotto, who said he was working hard on planning.
“We have moved from the municipal planning process to the pre-construction mode,” said Riotto. “In the next few months everything will revolve around completing the design, which will enable efficient expansion from next spring and which will open as planned in autumn 2022.”
Caffelle said that while Somersworth can be the home of the dome, it will have far-reaching implications.
“It is super exciting to see this type of facility come to Somersworth and the city offer this opportunity not just for our local children but for the entire area, “said Caffelle.