A landmark building that served primarily for military training has opened its doors to the Atlantic City community and surrounding towns.
What was once an indoor cavalry field at the National Guard Armory on Absecon Boulevard now is an indoor recreational complex.
Some teams, such as the Atlantic United Soccer Club, already have used the building for matches and practice. The Girls U14 Armor team was at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday and has used the facility for the past two seasons to practice during the winter.
"It gives us playtime in the winter. ... There aren't many places for that," said parent Marilyn McElroy, of Northfield. Her daughter Sarah, 14, was at Tuesday's ceremony, along with teammate Aimee Geck, of Galloway Township.
"My husband and I actually use that as a date and go to the restaurant. It's a good thing for Atlantic City because we offer them more business in the winter," said Geck's mother, Pascale.
Before practicing at the Armory, the team practiced at the Euro Sports Center in Egg Harbor City or in open fields, coach Bob Hayes said.
The $2.9 million project at the old armory was jointly funded by the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and the Department of Law and Public Safety. It includes an indoor track and soccer field, as well as space for volleyball for schools as well as athletic and nonprofit organizations.
What is now the indoor track used to be the drill floor for the 57th Troop Command of the New Jersey Army National Guard, which will still be using the space on weekends.
The building was originally built in 1929 for $250,000, Brig. Gen. Michael Cunniff said. Since then it has had many uses, including a sort of indoor polo field for the soldiers. The walls inside the arena still maintain the angled walls, which were useful when a horse would smash up against it - saving the rider from being injured.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman told a group of parents, children and other government officials at the dedication of the new building Tuesday that it is offering a low fee as an incentive to use the facility.
The fee is $50 per hour and it decreases after a certain number of hours used, Hoffman said. The Department of Law and Public Safety was involved in the project because of the effect on a community with the opening of a new center.
"We would never incarcerate our way out of the problems that plague our cities," Hoffman said. It is important to engage children at an early age and let them know that "a life of crime and drugs is optionless."
The renovation of the building was first agreed to in October 2009 with a groundbreaking in 2010. It has been used since the fall of 2012 for matches between teams.
"Now, what was built for military drills, is now a community center," Hoffman said.
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