Auburn City Council approves $3M bond for turf project at Falcon Park

20 July 2018

The Auburn City Council unanimously voted Thursday night to authorize a $3 million bond to finance a project to put synthetic turf at Falcon Park, turning it into a multi-use facility that could be utilized by sports teams at Cayuga Community College.

The city and college are still in the process of negotiating an agreement that would allow CCC to pay the city to use their field for not only its baseball team, which will have its inaugural season in 2019, but also its men's and women's soccer teams. It will also give the college the opportunity to restart men's and women's lacrosse programs.

City Manager Jeff Dygert stressed during the council meeting that just because the councilors approved the bond ordinance, does not mean the project is moving forward. That won't happen until the city and the college can finalize a rental agreement and the council votes to approve it. Dygert likened the authorization of the bond to being preapproved for a loan.

"We are not necessarily moving forward with the project, we are not borrowing the money until we have an agreement with the college that is appropriate and makes sense financially and operationally for the college as well as the city," Dygert said.

As for why the city of Auburn is responsible for footing the bill for the renovations, Dygert said since the city owns Falcon Park, "improvements to that property fall on the city, that's why the bond is through the city." He added that "the repayment of that bond will be made possible through a rental agreement with Cayuga Community College, which will cover debt service on that bond."

According to the bond ordinance, the turf is likely to have a 15-year period of usefulness. Dygert said the city will repay the loan over that 15-year period. Councilor Jimmy Giannettino questioned if borrowing the money could negatively impact the city's credit rating. Dygert said there could be a potential impact but is "hoping that the establishment of a long-term rental agreement will help to justify that impact."

CCC President Brian Durant said the project is "critically important" to the college's vision because in addition to expanded athletic opportunities, the college would be able to provide more hands-on academic opportunities to students studying media, sports management and business, which will hopefully increase enrollment.

Durant said the college has done "extensive due diligence" and explored multiple alternatives over the last several years, including building its own turf facility, but came to the conclusion that this partnership with the city is the most fiscally responsible option. He said it would have cost the college about $15 million to build its own facility.

"I don't view that as the responsible choice when we already have a state-of-the-art facility within the community that we can leverage and work together and achieve the same goals," Durant said.

City Councilor Debby McCormick questioned whether or not turf is necessary for the project or if the project would negatively impact the Doubledays at all. Dygert said installing turf is not a requirement of the project, but will allow the facility to be used more frequently. Auburn Doubledays General Manager Adam Winslow said the franchise, New York-Penn League and Washington Nationals organization are all supportive of the project.

"They see the longevity of of Minor League Baseball staying here," Winslow said during the meeting.

Conversations have been ongoing between the city, college, Doubledays and Auburn Enlarged City School District to figure out scheduling events at the facility, Dygert said. If the project is approved, it will move quickly because the project will need to be done before the Doubledays kick off their 2019 season. Construction will likely begin in the fall. The project is also being included in Cayuga County's Shared Services Initiative.

All four city councilors and Mayor Michael Quill voiced their support for the project.

Giannettino said he feels the project is an opportunity to keep more young people in the community.

"I think this is a good opportunity for the city, for the ball club, certainly for CCC. While the college is a separate entity that the city is not responsible for, I think we have a responsibility to, in any way we can, improve the quality of life here. Having a strong community college with a strong student body goes a long way," he said, adding, "I honestly don't see any downside to this."

Councilor Dia Carabajal said she was on the Auburn Enlarged City School District board when the district was exploring adding turf to Holland Stadium. She said the improvements the school district made to its stadium made the facility more productive for the community because more practices, games and events could be held there. She said she thinks the project at Falcon Park will have similar results.

"Falcon Park has had its ups and downs, throughout history, financially where it has been an asset to our community and it was self-sustainable but it also became a tax burden on this community at different points in time," Carabajal said. "To be fiscally responsible, when we have the opportunity to make it a multi-use facility that we can have more events at, we really need to explore that."

After the meeting, Carabajal, who is an employee at the college, said she did not believe her vote to authorize the bond was a conflict of interest.