The CNMI Sports and Cultural Tourism Enhancement project that will essentially transform the decades-old Oleai Sports Complex into one of the most modern sports venues in the region has been welcomed by open arms by the Commonwealth’s sports community.
Northern Mariana Islands Basketball Federation president James Lee said the $21.2-million grant recently approved by the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce to upgrade the Oleai Sports Complex will work wonders not only in developing the islands’ athletes but also in luring foreign athletes and teams to train in our shores under the Marianas Visitors Authority’s sports tourism program.
“The $21-million funding will be extremely beneficial not only for basketball but for all sports in general as well as for our island/community. If we do this right I can see a tourism market for our island. We won’t be limited on just promoting our beautiful beach and people of the CNMI, we can promote sports tourism and attract world-class athletes to come over and train and/or host high-level competitions,” he told Saipan Tribune.
From that, Lee believes not only will the CNMI benefit from generating revenues from sports tourism but local athletes will also have higher training experience and competition.
“The possibility can be endless. However, it will take everyone’s help to make it happen, starting from working together with our government, our private sector, our sports federation, the community as a whole so that we can maximize the full benefit of the funding and not just a facelift of our Oleai Sports Complex,” he added.
For Saipan Swim Club coach Richard Sikkel, the plan to build an Olympic-size swimming pool with associated facilities such as a cantilevered roof, electronic timers, pumps, piping, water storage, spectator bleachers, locker room, and utility rooms is nothing short of a godsend for the CNMI’s swimmers, who for a couple of years now have been swimming in the ocean and small pools after the Marpi swimming pool was closed.
“We are extremely excited and thankful that the Oleai Sports Complex revitalization was approved. We cannot wait to see the improvements taking shape and of course use the new and improved facilities,” he said.
Swimming Center Tsunami Saipan coach Hiro Kimura said the building of a new Olympic-size swimming pool in the center of the island will make the sport more accessible to the community. He said like Sikkel, his swimmers also can’t wait to take laps in an official pool again.
“Young swimmers need swim meet to improve. We can do practice at any size pool but swim meet can be held at official pool only,” he said.
Northern Mariana Islands Volleyball Association president Soledad Quan said an upgraded Oleai Sports Complex, especially the Gilbert C. Ada Gymnasium, will give more incentive for athletes to train.
“Having clean and modern facilities is one of the foundational pieces of building a thriving ecosystem of competitive sports in our community. Not having these types of facilities puts our athletes at a disadvantage when it comes to competing outside of the CNMI,” she said.
Quan said it’s been difficult for indoor volleyball players to continue playing without the Ada Gym and she can’t wait to see the venue up and running once again.
“I am ecstatic and grateful that the CNMI will once again have a functioning and safe indoor volleyball court/gymnasium to practice and compete in. Overall, these upgrades will help give our athletes a sense of pride in where they play and more opportunities to reach their full potential,” she said.
As detailed by plans under the CNMI Sports and Cultural Tourism Enhancement project, the renovation and rehabilitation of the Ada Gym will entail repair to the damage brought by Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018, enhance storm resiliency and improve the building, which includes making the roof resistant to 190 miles per hour winds, construction of a second-floor addition for office space and conference rooms, and a separate concrete storage facility (approximately 10 ft. x 20 ft.) to be associated with the gym and track.
The makeover of the Oleai Sports Complex will also include the construction of two International Tennis Federation tennis courts with associated facilities such as warm-up walls, fencing, and bleachers.
For baseball, the plans are the rehabilitation and renovation of the Francisco “Tan Ko” M. Palacios Baseball Field and associated facilities including the addition of a spectator grandstand, lighting, announcer’s box, batting cages, dugouts, and concession stand.
In related news, the launch ceremony for the 2022 Northern Marianas Pacific Mini Games will be held today starting 4:30pm at the Oleai Sports Complex. This will be the official start of the one-year countdown toward the CNMI’s hosting of the Pacific Mini Games next year.