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Lewiston Civic Center referendum vote Monday

by jmaloni
Sat, Jul 13th 2013 07:00 am

Pro-forma study projects surplus for center in five years

by Terry Duffy

It all comes down to a vote.

On Monday, July 15, Town of Lewiston residents will have the opportunity to decide once and for all the future of the proposed $9.2 million Town of Lewiston Civic Center, envisioned for a 10-acre plot of land in front of Lewiston-Porter High School on Creek Road. Open to Town of Lewiston residents only, voting on the referendum will take place from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Lewiston Town Hall, 1375 Ridge Road.

The vote's outcome will determine the future for the proposed project, funding for which was approved on June 6 by the Niagara River Greenway Host Communities Standing Committee following an earlier rejection by the Niagara River Greenway Commission.

First conceptualized by a committee formed roughly two years ago by Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter, the Civic Center has been a frequent discussion topic at Lewiston Town Board meetings over the past year. Following a lengthy lead-off presentation in mid-December by a group known initially as the Recreation and Senior Center Committee, a series of informational meetings have been held on the center, detailed environmental and facility presentations done, pro-forma evaluations of the center's future financials presented and opportunity for public comment provided - sessions that revealed significant support by town residents. "An intense amount of work has gone into this project," said committee member Ron LaDuca this week, as he recalled the diligent evaluations and studies over the past two-plus years by his committee, a group that originally had 18 members that now numbers six. "This is not a fly-by-night idea."

"We looked at every aspect, every concept. We felt it was needed in Lewiston," LaDuca continued, as he spoke of the numerous positive impacts a fully operational Civic Center would mean for the northern county region, to youth sports, the Lewiston-Porter School District, to area residents, the town's and the region's economic vitality.

"The recreation center has mobilized hundreds of voters who are very much in favor (of it)," said LaDuca. "We have a lot of friends out there."

The $9.2 million in funding approved last month by the Host Communities Standing Committee covers the land purchase from the Lewiston-Porter School District and construction of the facility. With approval of the referendum vote, Greenway funding of $430,000 annually for a period of 30 years would begin flowing to the town, money that would go to pay off a bond anticipation note that the Town of Lewiston would be pursuing to cover the facility's cost.

The $9.2 million does not cover any unanticipated cost overruns from construction, nor does it cover operational costs once the center is built. That factor has drawn concern from Lewiston residents, comments of which are reflected in articles and letters to the editor appearing in today's Sentinel.

In remarks April 22 before the Lewiston Town Board concerning the Civic Center's pro-forma financial projections in the future, Pat Brown of Brown and Co. LLP CPAs was conservatively optimistic on the facility's ability to show a profit over the course of its first five years of operation. He projected the Civic Center would operate in the red initially with an estimated revenue of $357,000 and expenses of $371,000 in year one. Those numbers were based on an anticipated operation of athletic events on a seasonal basis over nine months, with no activity over the summer. Brown forecasted the center would see a roughly $14,000 deficit with no concessions or advertising revenue at its start.

But those numbers would be expected to change for the positive in years two through five and onward, said Brown. He envisioned average revenue increases of 10 percent per year from the growing center activities, athletic and possibly otherwise, while expenses, from areas such as maintenance, utilities, supplies, and staffing would be in the 5 percent range annually for years two to five. "I see a $200,000 surplus at the end of five years," Brown told the board. He factored in the town utilizing NYPA assistance to cover utility costs.

"Our work (on the numbers) compared assumptions to those facilities already operating" in the area, said Brown. As to center use, Brown envisioned only one weak area, that being $30,000 in revenues anticipated over five years from the use of basketball courts in the center. Brown said that was due to having no other comparisons to work off in the area and again being very conservative in his estimates.

"Look, these are assumptions, a road map," said Brown. "But they are very realistic."

As to future operations, LaDuca revealed that his committee would be recommending the town pursue a contract with Sports Facilities Advisors, a national amateur sports management group, which conducted a presentation before the Town Board earlier this year, to manage the center.

LaDuca spoke with optimism on the Sports Facilities Group's potential to make the Civic Center a profit-maker for the town. He noted the management group is very active in promoting amateur youth sports tournaments in the Dallas area and the southeast and was very impressed during its recent visit on the prominence of youth amateur sports in the Buffalo area, particularly youth soccer in the Niagara region. "They're here because they feel this can work," said LaDuca, noting Sports Facilities Advisors' interest of including Lewiston as a destination locale on the national amateur sports tourney circuit, joining with communities in Texas and in the southeast as a site for youth soccer tournaments. He also spoke of the involvement of sponsors such as Nike and Adidas in these tournaments and their potential for Lewiston.

 "How can you turn that down? We could have a professionally managed facility (with Sports Facilities Advisors)," said LaDuca, noting the positive economic potential for the area.

As to the uncertainty expressed by residents over the cost of the Civic Center and its future operations, he stressed, "Look, we have safeguarded (the community's) interest the best we can."

He closed by urging a positive vote by Lewiston residents to get the project started. "Spend the money; do it for the future, if we are to grow (this region) we have to start thinking beyond the box.

"We have done a good job here; (this facility) is something we can draw on."

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