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Soccer fields part of plan to kickstart redevelopment of Children’s Hospital

Soccer is exploding in Buffalo, but places to play haven’t kept pace.

Outdoor fields are overextended, and there are no indoor venues in the city to use in fall and winter.

That could change after last week’s announcement that a soccer facility will be part of a redevelopment to replace Women & Children’s Hospital.

The plan by Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. calls for indoor fields for younger children and a regulation-size outdoor soccer field for those 13 and older. The outdoor field would be on a level above the indoor fields.

The facility will be designed by Cannon Design, which has designed soccer facilities at the Sidwell Friends School, where President Obama’s children attended, and the National Cathedral School, both in Washington, D.C.

“I’m really excited about it,” said Rudy Pompert, director of soccer for Delaware Soccer League. “It’s like soccer is really on the map now. We’ve been working really hard at the club – and others have, too – to make soccer popular in Western New York, and this is kind of a reward for that.”

Pompert said parents involved with Delaware Soccer gave the developer input but the club is not formally involved.

“As a club, we have not sat down with them,” Pompert said. “I think that is going to come up in the near future.”

Amanda Crotty, the club’s office manager, called the need for more soccer fields greater than ever.

“We are registering right now for tryouts and soccer camps, and we can’t create enough spaces for all the kids who want to play soccer,” Crotty said. In the past year, the number of travel teams jumped from 23 to 30. The spring house league was also up several dozen players despite losing so many to travel play.

Pompert said 1,200 children are now enrolled, along with about 500 in the fall and two Premier League teams.

That has put more pressure on finding soccer-ready fields for teams to practice and play on.

The club’s outdoor fields are at a few locations in Delaware Park and McCarthy Park, along with rented space at Buffalo State College and Riverside High School. But Pompert said there are maintenance issues at Delaware Park, including Rumsey Field and the Point of the Meadow field, due to heavy use, which includes adult pickup soccer games.

“We are really in need of fields because we have grown so much and because of the wear and tear of the fields that we use,” Pompert said.

“Indoors, we’re always practicing in gyms on basketball floors with small spaces. That’s OK with younger kids, but as soon as you get a little older, it doesn’t really help.”

That’s meant teams – and the children’s families – making a winter trek to Sahlens Sports Park in Elma, Sportsplex in North Tonawanda or Epic Sports Center in Williamsville.

Pompert said an indoor facility in Buffalo would give children the opportunity to practice and play games on good-size fields and lead the possibility of hosting tournaments. Along with the convenience, it would also help forge a more tight-knit identity.

“One of the things really important to our Delaware Soccer Club is that we build a club atmosphere,” Pompert said. “When you have your own central facility, that can grow, too.”

The soccer fields would have artificial turf for maintenance purposes and so the dimensions could be changed more easily to accommodate more games.

“Purists want to play on real grass,” Pompert said. “But that’s just too much maintenance and is just a dream.”

Dennis M. Penman, Ciminelli’s executive vice president, said a market study by a municipal agency identified the need for more sports facilities in Buffalo, adding that soccer fields meet the needs of the demographic the company is targeting.

“Youth sports activities is really a market driver, especially now that there are so many young families in the Delaware District,” Penman said.

He said the idea of a soccer facility fitted nicely with the other components of the $122 million, 8-acre mixed-use development, which will include a second Tapestry Charter School, condominiums, luxury rental housing and townhomes, a 72-room boutique hotel and a 374-space underground parking ramp.

Cannon Design was chosen to design the soccer grounds, Penman said, because “they did two elegant and non-obtrusive sports facilities in low-scaled buildings, where you can see inside the building from street level.”