Little Egg Harbor Man Envisions Sports-Bubble for Town

‘Jennifer’s Place,’ as Wife’s Memorial, Won’t Cost Taxpayers
By RICK MELLERUP | Mar 28, 2018

“In Xanadu,” wrote 19th-century English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “did Kubla Kahn a stately pleasure-dome decree,” a line paraphrased by Orson Welles to introduce his masterpiece Citizen Kane. Jamey Carnes is not Kubla Kahn, the grandson of Genghis and potentate of the Mongol Empire from 1260 to 1294. Carnes’ town, Little Egg Harbor Township, isn’t Xanadu, Kahn’s Mongolian summer capital. But the 43-year-old pipefitter is dreaming of building a pleasure-dome, actually a sports-bubble, and he wants to build it in Little Egg Harbor.

Actually Carnes isn’t just dreaming. Carnes said he and a partner, Todd Nugent, have already purchased property for the bubble, a 4.4-acre site on Route 539 across from the Little Egg Harbor Township Recycling Center.

“The next step,” said Carnes, “is to form a board to found a not-for-profit organization.”

Sports-bubbles, a.k.a. sports-domes, multi-sport-domes and air-domes, are athletic facilities covered by air-supported soft domes that allow sports, including outdoor sports, to be played in the winter. They vary in use and size. One company out of many that specialize in such structures, the Ontario-based Farley Group, has been in business since 1970 and has had a hand in the construction of over 900 air-supported structures across the world. It has built soccer, tennis, swimming pool and multi-sport domes, as well as domes covering warehouses and manufacturing plants.

Bo Jackson, the only athlete ever to become an All-Star in both the NFL and MLB, is now in the sports training business. His company, Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports, had an 88,000-square-foot dome built by the Farley Group in Lockport, Ill., in 2008. With dimensions of 400 feet by 220 feet by 66 feet, it is utilized by baseball, softball, football, soccer and lacrosse teams.

Golf domes, built by many companies, are also popular. The Fox Hollow Golf Club in Anchorage is a good example. You’d figure golf would have a rather short season in Alaska, but Fox Hollow allows golfers to practice through the dead of winter, thanks to a 57,000-square-foot indoor dome range.

Fox Hollow came in handy when another Anchorage sports-dome, simply called The Dome, collapsed in January 2017 during a heavy snowstorm. Teams and athletes that competed and practiced at The Dome were invited to use the Fox Hollow facilities.

At 180,000 square feet, The Dome, which has reopened, shows how large an air-supported sports-bubble can be. It is the largest sports complex of its kind in the world and houses a 400-meter track certified by USA Track & Field, a full-size soccer field, a full-size football field, weight equipment, batting cages and more. It also shows that air-supported domes can be susceptible to bad weather.

Residents of Little Egg Harbor and its environs don’t have to visit Illinois or Alaska to check out a sports-dome. They can simply drive to Toms River, to visit the John Bennett Indoor Athletic Complex, commonly known as “The Bubble,” located at 1519 Hooper Ave. Used by Toms River Intermediate School students for physical education classes and by track athletes throughout the state for important meets, The Bubble, like The Dome, has had its problems with weather. It totally collapsed in October 2012 as a result of Superstorm Sandy but reopened in January 2013. Another incident occurred in January 2015 during the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Group 4 Relays when the bubble began to deflate in the corners. The facility had to be evacuated, but order was quickly restored, with athletes and spectators returning after a 15-minute delay. The Bubble’s blower, which keeps the dome inflated, had been briefly turned off during a frequency drive test. The backup came on immediately, but it was unable to maintain full pressure. Once the main blower was turned back on, the dome quickly resumed its normal shape. The Bubble’s facility manager said people were never in danger. Even if the backup hadn’t clicked on, he said, it would have taken four to six hours for the dome to come totally down.

So, Carnes knows a ton of work has to be done for his dream to become a reality. With incidents such as occurred at The Dome and The Bubble, many questions are sure to be asked during the permitting process. And money – lots of money – will have to be raised. But he thinks the community need is so great, his project will attract many supporters. Casual preliminary discussions with Little Egg Harbor Township and Pinelands Regional School District officials have been encouraging. He’s shooting for a grand opening in 2020.

What does Carnes want to see his proposed sports-bubble look like, and what sort of activities would be taking place there?

“A super-facility would cost about $4½ million; that would be one with batting cages and tennis courts and a field,” he said. “Ultimately I’d like to get to something like that. The next option would have two phases, with a smaller building, or an actual bubble like the ones in Toms River and Egg Harbor City (the Euro Sports Center) for $1 to $2 million to start, for soccer, lacrosse, birthday parties and pickleball, things like that, along with rest rooms and concessions. It would be about $1.5 million for a bare-bones bubble.

“I’ve been meeting with lawyers and accountants. There are a lot of questions at this point to be worked out, such as who is going to be on the board: teachers, business owners. One thing I want the public to know is that it won’t cost the taxpayers anything.”

When did Carnes first come up with the idea?

“It’s something a bunch of us have been thinking about for a long time,” he said, adding he’s been involved in the community for quite a while, doing such things as serving as the treasurer of the Pinelands Soccer Association.

His interest was really spurred when his wife, Jennifer, passed away last autumn. She had been a teacher at the George J. Mitchell Elementary School, as well as active within the Pinelands Soccer Association and as a Girl Scouts leader.

“She just couldn’t stop helping people,” said Carnes. “So I want to call the sports-bubble Jennifer’s Place. It is going to be her legacy of giving.”

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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