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Reach deal on Rockpile Upgrades for Wiley Pavilion on hold while upkeep responsibility is argued

Instead of the finger-pointing involved in discussions about whose job it is to maintain the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletics Sports Pavilion, the East Side needs someone to take responsibility.

That would mean a lot to the kids who may have looked forward to playing baseball on the site of the old Rockpile. But that particular "field of dreams" won't come true this season, and inertia in the city, county and school district raises questions as to whether it will ever materialize.

The sports pavilion was demanded by the community and supported by politicians when the old War Memorial Stadium was slated for demolition. The site incorporates some elements of the venerated stadium, which saw sold-out high school football games in the 1940s, American Football League championship battles involving the Buffalo Bills, O.J. Simpson's debut, the return of the Buffalo Bisons to Triple-A baseball and the filming of Robert Redford's "grand slam" movie, "The Natural."

Today's debate centers on whose job it is to maintain the facility, including the baseball field. Is it the city, school district or county? The answer seems to depends upon who you ask. And the tragedy is that while governments debate who's responsible for the upkeep, private sector money for much-needed improvements is going begging.

The private sector has stepped up to the plate, so to speak, in pledging to support the site and keeping that promise. Buffalo Bisons owners Bob and Mindy Rich have offered to pay for a wide-ranging renovation. New Era Cap Co. has also offered to help the site in the name of baseball and a commitment to the community. The Bisons as an organization have made monetary contributions toward uniforms, equipment and personnel, in addition to paying for summer baseball camps. But none can be expected to provide more support, if existing facilities aren't cared for.

Neglect at the site is nothing new. It was evident at the old stadium itself, and dates back decades. But the city has had a $2 million grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development since 1993; the money was to have been used by the school system for improvements to the complex.

That grant predates the current administration, but that does not prevent City Hall from exploring ways to use the funds. A spokesman for Mayor Byron W. Brown recently pointed to the recent funding of a study that provided recommendations and cost estimates for facility renovations. The study is a start, but that's of little comfort to amateur athletes who want to use better facilities this year.

Meanwhile, the county is trying to get out of the parks maintenance deal struck by previous administrations and that is causing more confusion as to who will take care of the sports complex.

There's always a lot of talk about giving young people something productive to do, and of the importance to them of sports, culture and the arts. In this case, the private sector has done its part and is willing to do more. But government has stalled. Settle this. It's time for the various levels of government to play ball.

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