“This will provide growth for our businesses and recreational benefits for our youth for decades to come,” Dunbar Mayor William Cunningham said on Monday, as earth-moving equipment rumbled across the construction site for the Shawnee Park Multi-Sport Complex taking shape behind him.

The $17-million project that is converting the former 9-hole Shawnee Park Golf Course into state-of-the-art soccer and lacrosse fields and baseball and softball diamonds suitable for regional and national tournaments “will redefine our identity as a community,” Cunningham predicted.

While the new sports complex, under development by the Kanawha County Commission, lies just outside Dunbar’s city limits, the town operates Shawnee Park’s swimming pool. Between now and its projected Memorial Day Weekend opening, the pool will receive $235,500 worth of repairs and renovations.

On Tuesday, during a ceremony in the Shawnee Park Clubhouse, Kanawha County Commission members and officials from Shamblin Construction of Sissonville, the successful bidder on the pool project, signed a contract allowing the work to begin. “Cracks will be repaired, the bottom with be smoothed and the pool will get a complete upgrade of its filtering system,” Cunningham said.

Meanwhile, behind the swimming pool, workers from Hayslett Construction of Hurricane could be seen preparing drained and graded land for the installation of more than 16 acres of artificial turf, expected to begin on May 14 and include playing surfaces for six soccer/lacrosse fields.

Two of the championship-sized soccer fields will be equipped with steel bleachers providing seating for 1,000 people each, while smaller, portable aluminum bleachers will be used at the other fields.

Four outdoor basketball courts are expected to be completed by May 15, followed by a fifth, regulation-size court with bleachers on each side a few weeks later.

“We’re progressing a little faster than expected,” said Commissioner Ben Salango, who is spearheading the project on behalf of the county. “We hope to have everything complete by July 10.”

Last month, Gov. Jim Justice announced that the Shawnee Park Multi-Sport Complex, in partnership with the Barboursville Soccer Complex, have teamed up to host three U.S. Youth Soccer regional tournaments in 2019 and 2020. The 450 teams and their supporters drawn to the 15 days of play the tournaments provide will produce an economic impact of $32 million, according to Salango.

“You will see new restaurants, motels and jobs created here,” said Carper. “This is the biggest economic development project the county has undertaken in some time.”