Football is returning to Wilmington, bringing food, housing, and entertainment

To Wilmington USL could use the old Wilmington Hammerheads pitch while they are building their “outdoor community event center” at Legion Stadium. (Courtesy CFCC Athletics.)

WILMINGTON – Professional football will return to Wilmington, giving home fans a much-sought-after return home. And this is just the beginning of what the organizers have planned for the recovery of the sport.

The United Soccer League granted USL exclusive rights to Wilmington. The team is forming a USL League One team to start playing in 2024.

Cameron Management chief investor Scott Sullivan Chris Mumford, a UNC Chapel Hill practice teacher, former Wilmington Hammerheads midfielder and North Carolina FC coach Dewan Bader are the team’s organizers.

Mumford shared Wilmington’s support for his former football team, the Wilmington Hammerheads, and his youth, with the rising popularity of football in a growing region as the city matures into a new team.

“The stars are lined up for Wilmingon right now,” Mumford said. “We should have come here five years ago.”

Hammerheads had a 20-year career as a professional football team in Wilmington, competing in the USL. The team relegated to the Premier Development League in the fall of 2016 and played in 2017 before the final game was disbanded.

Mumford, a former UNC Chapel Hill footballer, and his two partners agree with the concept of “do well, do well.” This view extends beyond the realm of football.

The team is not opening a regular stadium; they plan to build an outdoor community event center. They won’t be playing forever in the old Hammerheads stadium at Legion Stadium, though they can use the event center while the works are in progress. According to Mumford, the stadium is not equipped to meet their needs.

The community-driven approach includes artists ’spaces, restaurants, large retailers, health systems, and even housing. Mumford stated that they need at least 40 to 60 acres of land to make land in the event center. A typical football stadium measures a maximum of 2 acres.

“We want it to be comfortable for our fans,” Mumford said.

They have only one location in mind, but they said it was too early to share details.

The plans are based on football, but it would also provide services to support the surrounding community.

“It’s not about transactions. It’s about relationships, ”Mumford said. “You don’t get into the small league football business to make a lot of money.”

While many of the ideas are in a bunch of ideas, Mumford noted two essential conveniences: a dining room and a brewery. Both venues will be publicly accessible and open year-round. Mumford said these places will allow local restaurants to build their own business and interact with the community space, even if they are not football fans.

The organizers also want to promote local musicians and artists by offering outdoor galleries and venues. Mumford’s goal is to incorporate murals through the center, each painted on canvas so that it can be transported to other parts of the city. He hopes to collaborate with UNCW and outside exhibitors, such as Van Gogh’s immersive experience on display at Raleigh.

As a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Chapel Hill, Mumford said it will be important to provide the infrastructure for low-income entrepreneurs to succeed.

He explained that the focus of the team is on the intersection of sport, entertainment and well-being. The latter will be satisfied by creating housing communities and providing space for health systems.

“People like to live close to stadiums with the noise of restaurants and entertainment,” Mumford said.

After leaving football university, Mumford worked on Wall Street and lived in Asia for 12 years. Through his work, he said he fell in love with startups. He returned to the world of football with his children, and in several games he and football coach John Kerr Duke decided to start the Accelerator School in Morrisville six years ago, combining football training with academics.

USL to Wilmington plans to hold listening sessions beginning this fall ahead of planning decisions to listen to the wishes of the community.

Many additional comfort and creative decisions, including the team name and logo, will be determined based on these sessions.

“We can say that we look people in the eye and hear what people have to say,” Mumford said.

Session information can be found in the USL on the Wilmington website.

Contact Alexandria Sands at [email protected]

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