The New Orleans Saints are taking training camp on the road this year in hopes of jump-starting the team’s "Win Now" strategy, and the host site is literally working night and day to be ready to roll out the red carpet.
The Saints will be training for 3 weeks at one of the nation’s most exclusive and historic resorts- the 236-year-old Greenbrier in West Virginia.
The resort may be old enough to have played host to 26 U.S. Presidents, but The Greenbrier is now installing the most state of the art facilities available. Crews are putting the finishing touches on three new football fields: two made from natural grass and one that’s synthetic turf. A few months ago, the site of the new fields was just another West Virginia hill.
"The fields were just a ridge top and a little holler, then another ridge top and another little hollerâ¦and then nothing," Greenbrier owner Jim Justice said.
Justice ranks 362nd on Forbes list of the Most Wealthy People, and he’s using those resources to build an athletic complex that he hopes will be known throughout the world someday soon. He’s had crews literally working around the clock in order to finish the fields and accompanying facilities in time for the Saints to kickoff training camp on Thursday July 24.
"Dad would say ‘Son if you can’t get it done in 24 hours, then you’re going to have to work nights,’" Justice said. "That’s what we did: we’re working nights, and now it’s almost done and it looks great. The grass is all done, their mowing it. You can walk out on the fields today and try to pull turf up and it’s difficult to pull upâ so it’s almost set."
Sitting next to the fields, the frame of a new 55-thousand square foot building that will give the Saints a weight room, cross fit gym, meeting space, kitchen facilities and the best in medical technology.
Total price tag: about $25 million. Justice says the opportunity is well worth the cost.
"It is a fabulous opportunity for West Virginia," Justice said. "West Virginia has never had a professional football team here, and so it will be unbelievable how the people will come out and how welcome the Saints will be."
The building sitting next to the new football fields will also house an elite medical research facility that will specialize in studying stem cells, the spine and even advances in cosmetic procedures. The center will also offer surgery options for the world’s top athletes. It will be headed up by arguably the most famous name in orthopedic surgery: Dr. James Andrews.
"Jim Andrews is the rock star," Justice said. "Jimmy’s operated on a lot of Saints players. When they won the Super Bowl, he called me from their dressing room. He’s a really special guy. There’s going to much more than just Jimmy Andrews, but he’s certainly a center piece."
As are the Saints. Justice says he’s investing in the Saints because their presence is vital to the medical facility’s reputation and success. Plus, he’s personally a proud supporter of the Black and Gold.
"I’m there hook, line and sinker. I’ve been a fan for a long time," Justice said. "I’m a believer in the story behind Saints and the story behind all that’s happening with the city after Katrina. You’ve got an incredible town. New Orleans is unbelievable, so is the team. This is going to be so fun to watch. It’s going to be really good."
Justice’s laid-back friendliness will likely endear him to the entire team, but there is one player in particular Justice wants to meet:
"We all gravitate toward Drew Brees," Justice said. "We’ve never met, but I gravitate to him because of his values. I think this country has gotten away from recognizing true right and wrong. Drew seems to represent a lot of goodness, so it’s easy for me to be a real fan."