CENTRALIA -- Meadow Woods Country Club in Centralia has been closed for several years. Developers have big plans for the former golf course adjacent to the 970 acre Raccoon Lake.
The 4.6 million dollar project named Castle Ridge will include a restaurant and conference center, cabins, estate style homes, multiple venues for weddings and events, an amphitheater and even a water feature for a kayak run featuring calm up to class four rapids.
The development starts with the Gaetti Sports Academy, which broke ground Thursday and features Centralia native and long-time Major League Baseball player Gary Gaetti.
"Now to be able to actually have a part and be a part of something in my hometown," said Gaetti. "All these people have been friends and family of ours for years. Just to be in this position is a tremendous, tremendous blessing. "
"We had the chance to meet with him and talk about what he wanted to try to do and see how that would fit here," said Meadow Woods Holdings President Greg Sutton. "The market research that we did around sports development indicated that this area could be a regional hub for sports development."
Regional is the key word. Organizers see this as more than a Centralia thing. It's a Southern Illinois project.
"A lot of individuals that are looking for a next level of sports development, not just going to batting cages or hitting off a pitching machine, but they really want skill development," said Sutton. "They're going an hour, hour and a half drive away into St. Louis. Having this here in Southern Illinois, now we're keeping it in Southern Illinois. "
"The building is going to be awesome," Gaetti said. "It's gonna have retractable cages. It's gonna be a multi-sport facility, not just baseball. You know we want softball. We'll do volleyball, and other sports, and probably have some training, physical training."
Gaetti admits he's a bit nervous getting everything started, but his main goal is to provide consistent instruction. For that he has turned to some other former Major Leaguers from the area including Dwight Bernard and Bryan Eversgerd, as well as Kirk Rueter, who is stoked to be a part of this.
"You know we're all sitting down talking about what sort of curriculum and protocol we want to develop," said Gaetti. "I trust him and his experience. We played against each other, and he's a local guy, and he's gonna put his piece in, and he knows how to do it."
"When Gary called and said he was getting this together, I was in right away," said Kirk Rueter, who still lives in Nashville. "When you have people of his caliber, especially being from the area--I didn't even think twice. I'm looking forward just working with the kids, letting them have some fun and giving them some of the knowledge that I've learned over the years."
The baseball and softball training will also incorporate HitTrax. Think of a baseball version of virtual golf, with the addition of a boat load of performance stats to help in player development. The group had the program on display at the inaugural Gaetti Sports Academy Youth Tournament over the weekend at Centralia's Rotary Park.
Construction will begin immediately on the Academy, weather permitting. Gaetti and company hope to have it open in September.