WATERTOWN — Assemblyman Scott A. Gray recommends that the group that proposed an $80 million events center should continue to “aggressively pursue” state funding to help finance the project that would be built in the town of Watertown.
But the Republican state lawmaker warned that the state hasn’t set aside any money for the 520,000-square-foot indoor facility.
Focusing on getting a budget settlement over the next month is the immediate concern for lawmakers, the assemblyman said.
After the budget is done, Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul would “perhaps” agree to appropriate some discretionary funding if there’s “money available” for the project, he said.
The Thousand Islands Event Center would host a range of sports, recreational, entertainment and other events for the north country, Thousand Islands region and southern Ontario.
The developers are hoping to receive up to $23 million in state grants to finance construction of the facility would be built adjacent to the Thousand Islands Agriculture and Business Park on Route 3.
The project would also be financed with $25 million private equity and $37 million in taxable bonds.
The group, headed by Town Supervisor Joel R. Bartlett and former Green Bay Packers Coach Michael F. Sherman, hosted a meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn on Thursday to drum up support from city and Jefferson County officials, the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce and others.
“We’re making headway,” said Mr. Bartlett, who’s been spearheading the project for a number of years.
David J. Machlica, principal of Venue Strategies, a New York-based firm that plans destination-oriented projects, said the facility would put the Thousand Islands on the map as a sports destination.
“We think the state should take a serious look at the project,” Mr. Machlica said.
Mr. Bartlett is also working with OVG Facilities, a $10 billion developer and operator of sports facilities around the world, Live Nation, the country’s largest concert promoter; and the firm headed by the former Green Bay coach and general manager, MS2.
In February, Assemblymen Gray and Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, and Sen. Mark C. Walczyk issued a joint statement announcing that they formally support the project.
They’ve been invited to meet with the developers today to find out more about the project and what it would do for the region. Sen. Walczyk plans to attend today’s meeting, he said.
Asked about what he thought about the prospects of securing state funding for the project, he responded, “Who knows?”
Assemblyman Gray said he’s confident that the group will be able to put together financing for the project but he’s concerned about what happens after it opens.
“The question is: Is it sustainable?” he said, adding, “it’s too big to fail.”.
The events center would have two indoor turf fields, eight basketball courts, 16 volleyball courts, a 220-meter banked indoor track, two National Hockey League-quality sheets of ice and facilities for wrestling, gymnastics and pitching/batting cages.
The events center also would host concerts for as many as 9,000 people as part of the 250 events that would be held there annually.
Working with such a large concert promoter as Live Nation, the Disabled Persons Action Organization Foundation could greatly expand the number of concerts that it presents throughout the year, Mr. Machlica said.
The DPAO currently promotes a handful of shows at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
On Wednesday, DPAO officials said in a news release that the organization “strongly supports” the event center, adding that it would improve the quality of life in the north country.
The facility wouldn’t only be for athletes but would include programs in art, drama and computers, Mr. Sherman said. Children should have an outlet for all kinds of opportunities to keep them from drug and alcohol abuse, he said.
The former NFL coach’s firm runs Seahawks Hockey Club, a club and academy in Cape Cod. The Watertown facility would host similar programs for hockey, soccer, lacrosse and figure skating.
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