Straddling the corner of a padded high jump pit, four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson looked down the straightaway of a 10-lane indoor track ringing a synthetic turf field built on land where a vineyard once thrived.
Outside, construction continued on an aquatics center that will house a 50-meter pool designers say will be the nation’s fastest. That building sits above a lighted 10,000-seat outdoor football stadium also used for lacrosse and soccer.
On Wednesday, the 12 indoor volleyball courts and state-of-the-art batting cages were quiet — but not for long. A year-round academy with dormitories will open in 2012, and a hotel, restaurants and retail village are in the planning stages.
Welcome to the Spire Institute — a one-of-its-kind sports mecca that leaves first-time visitors speechless.
“There’s nothing else like this,” Johnson said. “It’s second to none.”
Still in its infancy, Spire is growing by the day.
Founded and funded by Ron Clutter, a local businessman who wouldn’t divulge how much he has personally sunk into the $60 million already invested into the nonprofit project, Spire has an all-encompassing motto: “To empower athletes so they can reach their potential — not just in sport, but also in school and in life.”
Johnson has been brought on board by Clutter, and his senior management team comprised of former high-ranking IMG executives, to oversee the “athletic component” for Spire’s five planned sports academies in track and field, soccer, lacrosse, swimming and volleyball.
Johnson, who after retiring at the peak of his track career opened the Michael Johnson Performance Training Center four years ago in McKinney, Texas, was sold on Spire’s vision after meeting the humble Clutter and touring the sports wonderland’s facilities that have been accentuated with the latest technological and audio advancements.
“We don’t know when it’s all going to be said and done,” Johnson said. “Ron won’t stop building.”
No expense has been spared.
The 240,000-square foot indoor track complex, currently the jewel of Spire’s ever-expanding campus, is so large that field events — high jump, pole vault, shot put, discus — can take place without interfering with anything happening on the track.
“You can look at any university or at any Olympic training center and it’s not going to be better than this,” Johnson said. “I don’t know of another facility in existence, even internationally, that’s equal to this.”
Touring Spire’s vast grounds is indeed a jaw-dropping experience.
Ted Meekma, who oversaw IMG’s academies and heads Spire’s all-star management team, recalled being “blown away” on his first visit. Looking out a second-floor window at Spire’s outdoor track — a second one will open later this year — Meekma noted side-by-side long jump pits and pole vault runways.
“Two of everything,” he said. “That’s how Ron does it.”
A father of two teenagers, the 52-year-old Clutter built his fortune selling air conditioning units and generators to the military. Last year, he sold his local company to invest his time and money into Spire.
It’s a labor of love, and it means everything to him.
Clutter’s voice choked with emotion as he proudly described the significance of giving back to his quaint hometown, which he hopes to transform into a sports hub for the entire Midwest.
He and his wife, Tracy, have helped build a sporting paradise without any fanfare. Clutter didn’t want to publicize Spire until he was ready, and after months of nonstop building and development, the time is right to showcase a facility he hopes will attract athletes from around the world.
“My goal,” he said, “is that this place never stops.”
Because of the versatility and spaciousness of its facilities, Spire is able to accommodate a variety of events and activities at once. On Wednesday, area senior citizens walked inside one building while a high school track meet was held.
“Come in here on a Monday night and there’s a model airplane club with 50 or 60 guys running their planes,” Clutter said. “It’s the versatility that’s so unique and it’s also why we’ll be successful. I know from running a business the importance to be diversified.”
Nothing is more important to Clutter than making Spire all-inclusive.
His aim is to open it to everyone, athletes of every background and skill set. Of course, he would like aspiring Olympians and potential college athletes to enroll in the academies, but that’s not Clutter’s mission. His broader objective is to create a sports-centered environment that encourages athletes to reach their potential.
All of them.
“If it is only for the elite athlete, then we have failed,” he said. “This is for everybody to use. We want people 30 miles away, 300 miles away, 3,000 miles away to come here.”
Clutter has abided by a if-you-build-it-they-will-come philosophy every step of the way. He’s a big dreamer, not unlike Walt Disney, someone he has long admired.
“I don’t want to be brash or for anybody to think that we think we’re Disneyland,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is that what happens at Disneyland, happens here. People come in here and they smile. How many people do you see leaving Disneyland frowning?
“They’ve enjoyed it. It’s a pleasure, and that’s exactly what happens here.”
Source: The Associated Press.