Buffalo families would no longer have to drive to suburban sports facilities in the wintertime to play sports indoors because of a project to be announced today.
They could just head to North Buffalo.
City officials on Wednesday will announce a project to build an indoor multipurpose sports facility at Shoshone Park for baseball, soccer, lacrosse and other sports.
The project calls for a splash pad to replace an aging swimming pool at the park on Hertel Avenue near Main Street.
About half of the money for the estimated $4.3 million to $4.8 million project has been raised, and officials have leads on other funding sources. State Sen. Chris Jacobs will provide $1 million in state funds, and the city will redirect $1.2 million that was set aside for swimming pool improvements.
Site work for the municipally-owned facility is expected to begin in 2019, with construction of the building expected to start in 2020.
"I'm on cloud 9," said John Hornung, vice president of Hertel North Park Youth Baseball League.
The league enrolled 994 children and young adults on baseball teams at the park this year.
"It's a game-changer for us as a league," he said. "We send all of our teams and all of our kids to suburban sports parks, which is very expensive, and which limits the number of kids who can participate due to financial and transportation constraints."
Another indoor sports facility could be built in the next several years.
A 2017 report commissioned by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation determined a need exists for an indoor sports facility in Buffalo. The report, "State of Play: Western New York," mentioned the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion on the East Side as a potential site.
The foundation also funded a study through the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and it has hired a consultant to further explore the issue, partnering with the City of Buffalo and Buffalo Public Schools.
Nardin Academy opened a smaller indoor facility in October 2016 at 1803 Elmwood Ave. It's booked for practices and clinics by teams when not used by Nardin students.
Facilities in the suburbs tend to be overcrowded, with the high demand sometimes resulting in late playing times, said Jay Manno, who plays in an adult soccer league in a suburban facility.
"In my case, we have had games that don't even start until 11 o'clock at night," Manno said.
Manno said he believes other indoor facilities are needed in the city.
"Not only do we need this one but we probably need several more," Manno said. "You can build three more of these facilities, and every minute of every day would be booked. There are far more players than there are facilities."
Delaware Council Member Joel Feroleto, whose district falls a few blocks from the park, and University District Council Member Rasheed Wyatt presented the idea of an indoor facility to Mayor Byron W. Brown, suggesting the money budgeted for the pool would be better spent. The mayor agreed.
"This is going to be a community asset and important for children all over the city," Feroleto said. "Currently, parents at Delaware Soccer Club and Shoshone's baseball league spend a lot of money to practice and play games in the suburbs. This will provide a place for kids to have physical activities in the winter months."
The facility would usher in other changes to the park.
The parking lot for the LaSalle Metro Rail station, with about 800 spaces, would become the primary entrance and parking lot, Feroleto said. Discussions are being held with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to swap ownership of the portion of the parking lot closest to the park with another portion to the rear owned by the city, he said.
"I think this can also have a significant impact for the small businesses on Hertel and Main Street, and reduce traffic pressure on surrounding streets," Feroleto said. "If you park at the LaSalle station and cut through, you're at a lot of the baseball diamonds faster than if you park on Shoshone, Carmel or Tacoma," he said.
Feroleto said the city would make sure there are ADA compliant entrances.
A portion of the current parking lot and a building south of the pool that houses the Mayor's Impact Team would be demolished.
Unanswered questions remain, from what the facility would look like, how many sports could be played and how many teams could be accommodated. Adult recreational leagues, fee-based rentals and neighborhood use are also possibilities, Feroleto said.
Wyatt said it made sense to put the $1.2 million earmarked for the swimming pool into the project. The city has 12 swimming pools and 19 pools located inside public schools.
"I think this is a smart move on behalf of the city," Wyatt said.
Wyatt expects the facility would also be open to the community for nonleague activities.
"We want to make sure we manage the facility so everyone has an opportunity to use it, including after school," Wyatt said. "Our winters are long, and sometimes there isn't much to do for kids."
The $1 million from Jacobs makes it possible for the project to move forward, Feroleto said.
As a parent, Jacobs said he has known the extra time and expense involved in taking a child to practices at Sahlen Sports Park in Elma, Epic Sports Center in Williamsville or Sports Performance Park in the Eastern Hills Mall.
"I always wondered why we never had a facility like those in the city," Jacobs said. "I know how popular baseball is at Shoshone, and I thought it made a lot of sense to put something there. I thought if I was able to secure money to get close to where they needed to be, they could start planning to make this a reality."
"We can't have enough facilities to keep all of our teams practicing and to make sure we are providing the best programming possible for our teams," said Delaware Soccer League board member Garrett Timms.
The North Buffalo plan would benefit those who live in nearby communities, as well, said Manno.
"There's no centrally located place for city kids, or even if you're a kid from Tonawanda, Kenmore or the Northtowns," Manno said.
Rocco N. Diina, whose 8-year-old plays baseball at Shoshone Park, thinks building an indoor facility there is a "no-brainer."
It would level the playing field for city families who don't own cars, Diina said.
"It's taken for granted that everyone has a car, and that's not always the case," he said. "We draw from different economic backgrounds, and it's good to see they will all have a fair shot to enjoy baseball year-round."