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SOMERSWORTH — Former Somersworth Middle School basketball coach and principal of New England Sports Hub, Craig Riotto has big plans to bring an indoor sports dome to his home city in 2022.
“I want to see the community with one of the most extraordinary indoor sports complexes in the country in their backyard,” Riotto said. “This will be a place with something for everybody. It’s something I wish had been built when I was growing up, but I am excited for young people like my son to grow up and have this opportunity just five to 10 minutes away.”
The inflatable dome is planned to be 135,000 square feet with about two football fields worth of field turf for year-round play in multiple sports for all ages.
The city’s Planning Board unanimously granted a site plan approval Tuesday for the athletic and fitness facility, clearing the way for the project to move forward. The location is 165 Route 108, behind the Hilltop Fun Center, which has go-karts, mini-golf, batting cages and an arcade.
Riotto coached Somersworth Middle School basketball for six years, until he had to step down to focus on making this idea a reality. His vision is to turn the empty field and forestry behind Hilltop Fun Center into a 100-foot tall enclosed dome.
“Somersworth is my hometown and coaching basketball is my ultimate passion,” Riotto said.
Riotto said the goal is to create an “easily convertible and transformable space,” with enough room to accommodate training and games for soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse, field hockey, basketball and even golf practice. It is intended to serve youth and adult leagues.
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Pursuit of a dream project
“It’s been a three-and-a-half-year journey to get to this point,” Riotto said. “We had to put all these pieces together to figure out what this area really needs, and what it deserves. We now have a nicely customized venue that serves all ages, and a variety of interests.”
The idea for golf is part of that vision.
“In the mornings and afternoons when all of the kids and the working age adults are at school or at work, we’ve got 100,000 square feet of turf sitting there, so we’re going to accommodate an indoor driving range,” Riotto said. “To complement that, we’ll also have some cutting edge virtual golf studio booths going under the dome, too.”
Bigger picture for Somersworth
Somersworth Economic Development Manager Robin Comstock said the complex will be a huge economic development catalyst for the city, helping to put the city on the map as a destination.
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“Every person who visits Somersworth to attend games or events at the dome will need hotel rooms, food, and other accommodations as they explore our community,” Comstock said. “We expect further interest in development as a result of this project. Developments like this bring vitality and energy for the community.”
While the complex primarily caters to sports, it could also transform into a venue for functions, expositions or weddings.
“There is a terrible shortage of banquet and meeting room space on the Seacoast,” Comstock said. “This is a huge asset to Somersworth.”
Riotto said the complex will be essentially a “climate-controlled blank canvas,” noting it’s easy to transform to fit the needs of the community. He said what inspired him most to pursue the project was his passion for being a coach and bringing something of value to his community.