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Medaille sees new city sports complex as community asset

By the end of the fall, Medaille College soccer teams will be playing on a brand new field in an industrial area near South Buffalo.

But college leaders say their new athletic facility is about much more than just the school's needs. The goal is to benefit the entire community, they say, including surrounding neighborhoods, area soccer clubs, nearby schools and even businesses.

"We need it. Our city needs it," said Medaille President Kenneth Macur. "We’re trying to figure out how to make this space an asset to the community as well as for Medaille College."

The small four-year-college and developer Jon M. Williams will formally break ground Monday on the Medaille Sports Complex at Buffalo Color Park, designed to create a new home for four of Medaille's sports teams as well as host local high schools and adult sports leagues. The college signed a 15-year lease as the anchor tenant.

In particular, the fields will be used by the school's soccer and lacrosse teams – both men's and women's – but Medaille also will rent it out for use by other organizations when the college doesn't need it.

Construction equipment and workers already have begun clearing and digging up the site in preparation for the real work. Officials hope to have the outdoor fields done before winter, followed by the indoor facility next year.

"The highest priority is getting that field ready, as soon as we can, so we can sneak in a couple of games by the end of this soccer season," Macur said. "The field clearly will be ready for this spring's lacrosse season."

Macur noted that the college is now celebrating 20 years of having Division III athletics, "and now we get to think about this site as the next phase for Medaille College of investing in our student athletes."

The new athletic complex is part of a larger project by Williams' South Buffalo Development LLC, which is seeking to convert the 21-acre former Schoellkopf and Buffalo Color buildings at Elk and Lee streets – where dye for blue jeans and food coloring was made – into a mixed-use commercial, residential and retail development. That will include the new headquarters for Williams' primary demolition company, Ontario Specialty Contracting.

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“A decade ago, when Honeywell and (the demolition contractor) OSC teamed up to revitalize this site, it was nothing but a vacant, deserted remnant of what Buffalo used to be,” Williams said. “Today, we’re celebrating Buffalo’s future and how sites can be creatively reimagined and redeveloped in new ways for a new audience.”

But officials didn't initially have a plan for the grassy part of the property on the other side of Lee until a sports promoter – who is no longer affiliated with the project – came along with Medaille.

"We’re so excited to partner with Medaille, and there’s a need in the city for turf space," said Tess Williams, Jon Williams' daughter and the project manager for South Buffalo Development. "To partner with Medaille to build it, and then to rent it to other people as needed, and to create a site that’s been vacant for 10 years and bring activity to it and bring life to this side of the city, it’s just so exciting for all of us."

Plans for the $4 million complex envision a multisport and multi-use facility, on a 5-acre portion of the larger property. Specifically, it will feature a 26,400-square-foot indoor field house at 427 Elk, as well as an outdoor athletic turf field – measuring 300 feet by 300 feet – at 85 Lee.

Besides a sheltered practice field, the indoor facility will include a 5,000-square-foot weight room, a 40-person classroom for the teams, two 40-person locker rooms for the Medaille lacrosse teams and two 20-person locker rooms for visiting teams. It also will have two three-person locker rooms for the referees, "because we're getting more mixed teams in terms of referees," Macur said.

There also will be some offices, restrooms and storage space, as well as a 61-space parking lot, with the capacity to add another 50 spaces if needed. And plans include a scoreboard on the south end of the field, facing the Niagara Thruway.

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A concessions operation is under consideration as well, but is not yet final, and Macur would not say if it might include alcohol sales. "Until it's set, it's not," he said. "Everything's in flux."

Medaille will largely use the facilities in the evenings, "because we like our student athletes to practice from six at night until 10, after classes are done, so they don't miss classes," Macur said. That makes the school "an ideal master tenant," he said, because "it really gives an opportunity for high schools or other after-school use of the facility."

Additionally, he noted, the facility would be available for "the entire summer" and most weekends. Neighborhood schools could use it for physical education classes. And the college also will look for other opportunities to maximize the capacity, including possibly offering business or other classes at the site for employees of nearby companies.

"We’re looking at this with a wider lense than just what do we need," Macur said. "It is how can we talk about this being a community asset."

Medaille does not have a field hockey team and doesn't have plans for one, but the field also will be lined for the sport "because we understand there is a community need for field hockey for outside organizations to come in and use the space when we're not on it," Macur added.

The school's athletic director will manage rentals.

"This is a huge deal for us, and for me personally to work with a tenant like Medaille is really cool," Tess Williams said. "It's a very good project for us to work on."

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