AUBURN — Nearly three months after the city of Auburn introduced a plan to replace the grass playing surface at Falcon Park with artificial turf, the city council voted Thursday to unanimously approve the project.
The green light for the project came by way of an approval of a contract with Cayuga Community College, which gives the college the right to use the new field for its athletic teams in exchange for paying the city annual rent. The project was first introduced in July as a way for CCC to provide better facilities for its student athletes, while the city would get more use out of the park by turning it into a multi-use facility with the addition of the turf.
"This project has come together rather quickly although the concept of the project has been ongoing for a little bit over a year," City Manager Jeff Dygert said. "It's a great example of cooperation between local public entities that will have a great impact on the community."
The contract between the city and college will run for 20 years, beginning on Jan. 1, 2019, and ending Dec. 31, 2038. During the first five years, CCC will annually pay the city $335,000. The next 10 years, rent will go up to $350,000 a year and then the college will pay $190,000 for the remaining five years, for a total of $6.125 million. Those payments will cover the $3 million bond the city took out to finance the project — which is estimated to cost around $2.1 million — and operating and maintenance expenses the city will incur.
During the meeting, the council also awarded the construction contract to install the turf field to Cunningham Excavation out of Cazenovia for $1.4 million. That amount includes the cost of installing the turf, as well as padding the outfield wall and upgrading to a higher quality of turf. The city will need to hire other companies to do additional work to the stadium to make it usable more months of the year, such as insulating the clubhouses.
Additionally, the council awarded another contract to Syracuse-based Eaton-Ephesus Lighting to install new LED lights at Falcon Park. The entirety of that $252,000 project is being funded through a grant from Sen. John DeFrancisco's office, Dygert said.
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Members of the city council and Mayor Michael Quill agreed with Dygert that the project is a good example of government collaboration and said the new field will have a positive impact on the whole community, not just the college. They thanked city and college staff for their efforts in making the project come together.
"I really think for years to come it's going to grow and it's going to take roots and it's going to benefit everyone, the college, the community, the county, the city and the people who come here to go to school," Councilor Debby McCormick said. "It's very exciting."
Councilor Jimmy Giannettino said he "really doesn't see any downside" to this project and believes it will help keep the Doubledays, the city's Minor League Baseball franchise, in Auburn long into the future. Doubledays General Manager Adam Winslow has said in the past that the team, New York-Penn League and Washington Nationals organization are all supportive of the project.
"This is beneficial for baseball in Auburn," Giannettino said. "I think it gives us the best chance to keep baseball in Auburn for a long time. The reality of it is, we (the city) own the baseball team and taxpayers have subsidized baseball in Auburn for a long time. Hopefully this will allow us to make the team whole, reduce the amount of money that taxpayers have to put into the club on a yearly basis and use that money for other things in the city."
Before casting their votes, Giannettino disclosed his wife is a college employee and Councilor Dia Carbajal also disclosed she is a college employee. Both said their voting on the agreement was not a conflict of interest because they are not personally benefiting from the project.
In other news
• The city is holding a tree-planting event at 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 27 at the permaculture park on Garrow Street. Volunteers are needed to help plant the trees. The event will occur rain or shine.