Imagine a state-of-the-art, multimillion dollar multipurpose sports and recreation facility attached to a renovated Falleti Ice Arena on Evans Street.
Batavia City Council members on Monday night had the opportunity to do just that as they absorbed details of a grant-funded feasibility study presented by Bill Krueger (inset photo right), principal, of CSL (Conventions, Sports & Leisure International) of Minneapolis, Minn.
All agreed that such an attraction would be a great thing for Batavia and the surrounding area. And all agreed that the cost and the timing of such a project are major issues, especially as the City looks to build a $10 million police station and Genesee County prepares to construct a $60 million jail.
Krueger, who said he has conducted about 500 of these studies over his 25-year career, outlined three options for what is now known as Creek Park, with all three tied to refurbishing Falleti Ice Arena.
Option 1, an indoor turf and hardwood facility featuring two soccer fields, four batting cages, three full-sized basketball courts and six full-sized volleyball courts, carries a price tag of $27.5 million and would operate at an annual deficit of around $200,000.
Option 2, a large indoor turf facility with a full-sized turf field, would cost around $26.6 million, with an annual operating deficit of $133,000.
Option 3 is a small indoor turf facility with a couple soccer fields and four batting cages, but no cost projections were offered.
All would include bleachers, scoreboards, locker/team rooms, fitness/wellness equipment, play areas, food court/café and walking track.
Falleti Ice Arena improvements costing $3.7 to 4.9 million would be a prerequisite to either of the options, Krueger said.
“The Falleti arena is showing its age and its usage is below average,” Krueger said. “The trend is flexible multipurpose types of buildings.”
In his assessment of the Falleti Ice Arena, which was built in 1978, Krueger pointed out that total use hours by the four primary groups – Genesee Amateur Hockey Association, Batavia Men’s Hockey League, Batavia High School and Notre Dame High School – have declined over the past 10 years.
He also noted that there are an “increasing number of repair, replacement and maintenance items that need to be addressed … to sustain safe, operating conditions” and that the arena “lacks many of the amenities, seating and service/support areas that are present in modern facilities throughout the country.”
“As a bare minimum, you should make Falleti improvement the top priority,” Krueger said, adding that moving forward beyond that hinges on the project becoming a group effort.
“It doesn’t have to be all on the shoulders of the City,” he said. “The private sector, grants and state and/or federal funding (should be explored). “Certainly, Option 1 or 2 would elevate sports tourism in Batavia.”
Krueger estimated the economic impact of either Option 1 or 2 between $11.8 and $16 million per year, with attendance topping 200,000 annually.
Following his PowerPoint presentation, City Council members and officials had their say, with Rose Mary Christian kicking things off.
“We desperately need a new police department … City residents don’t need more taxes from the city, county or school district,” she said.
Public Works Department Director Matt Worth said that the demands for more recreation are there, but “the approach has to be regional” with the county and town getting involved to avoid duplicating efforts.
Christian agreed that it could be “very feasible if the county and town got in it.”
Council President Eugene Jankowski brought up the expense of the new county jail and the expense to families involved in hockey, surmising that a turf facility “could be a better fit” as far as individual costs are concerned.
“Maybe we could partner with the (Genesee Community) college and other agencies that could use it,” he said.
Council Member John Canale acknowledged that there hasn’t been an increase in usage at the Falleti arena because of its poor condition.
“We have a terrible reputation” in terms of the facility, Canale said.
A public hearing on the matter ensued, with Batavians Sam DiSalvo and John Roach addressing the board.
DiSalvo said he is an avid long-distance runner and a participant in three soccer leagues in Buffalo and Rochester who would forgo his driving if such a facility were in Batavia.
“If you’re telling me that I could walk five minutes and save 45-minute drives in both directions, you better believe I would,” he said. “I’m in favor of this – turf and hardwood. It’s a great idea if you could make it work financially.”
Roach offered a contrasting viewpoint.
“No, a big surprise,” he said, sarcastically. “It sounds like what we heard with the (Dwyer) baseball stadium … build it and they will come. Now we will have a baseball stadium that we won’t know what to do with it.”
He also said projections show a population decrease of 9 percent over a 10-year period of the younger demographic and “then you’ve got to look at that tax burden,” mentioning the police station, Falleti Ice Arena and the county jail projects.
“Unless the county decided to go into it, I’d say absolutely not. And I know what the county will say,” he concluded.
Canale agreed that “we couldn’t take this on ourselves” but suggested exploring grant opportunities and looking to the private sector to help “so the taxpayer would not be burdened with the entire (cost).”
After Council Member Patti Pacino said the priority should be to “make a decision to fix the (Falleti) facility,” Jankowski said that since the Creek Park property is part of the Brownfield (Opportunity) Area, it would be “ripe for grants.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to let our economic development people look into this and get public feedback,” he said.
Gregory Hallock, executive director of GO ART!, was in attendance as well and he said that by including figure skating, dance and cheering competitions it could lead the way to additional grant funding.
Council Member Robert Bialkowski urged his colleagues to proceed wisely.
“This is one thing we can do right for a change,” he said. “The ice rink shouldn’t have been part of the fire department.”
Worth said that the City will be reimbursed the $54,000 cost of the feasibility study by a Community Development Block Grant.