HOMER — The Homer Village Board got an earful Tuesday as residents questioned the initial secrecy of a plan to build a $30 million sports complex in the village, which the mayor said would be an economic engine and quality of life boost.
About 30 people in the Homer Town Hall basement weighed in for nearly two hours at a village board meeting, citing concerns about cost and whether the project could drive out of business the J.M McDonald Sports Complex nearby in Cortlandville.
The proposal includes a 350,000-squarefoot dome for indoor sports, a hockey rink, pavilion, Little League field, a football field, a soccer and lacrosse field, boat launches on the Tioughnioga River, a 2-mile walking trail along the river and a dog park at Calale Field off Route 281.
The primary site is the privately owned 70-acre former Casey field and the adjacent former Contento scrap yard owned by the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency — both in Cortlandville. The village would buy the Casey Field site for $375,000 and lease the former Contento property.
The village could move to annex the site into the village, although this is not necessary, Village Trustee Pat Clune said.
Some residents said they feared the project could become a financial drain, but Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe said the project is intended to draw sporting events, generating business and sales tax revenue.
“This is designed to lower your taxes,” Mc- Cabe said. “We are building this to bring people to the area.” The project will move forward only if the village gets grants and private investment necessary to cover the cost, he said.
“There was not transparency at all about this,” said Suzanne Riley, a former village trustee, noting she checked minutes of past meetings and found no mention of the project. “Now that you have a little controversy, now you’re asking” for public comment.
“When I saw the article in the paper, I thought it was a joke,” said village resident Bill Pomeroy, whose property is along the project site.
Others were upset that money was spent on plans before the public knew anything about it. They said a study should have been done first.
“The first piece is the concept,” said John Saraceno, chief financial officer of project consultant Keystone Associates, paid $31,000 from a $500,000 fund meant for a now-abandoned village hall project.
Village officials wanted to develop a general plan that could be presented to the public and revised before spending for market studies and seeking grants. “We’re not going to tax you guys,” McCabe said. “It’s not going to happen.”
Pomeroy said he worries about the potential for crime and noted a proposed county river trail project that would have included the Homer path failed when property owners wouldn’t give easements.
Many questioned whether there is sufficient demand for the facilities and whether the project would compete with the J.M. McDonald complex., especially the hockey rink.
Mike Drake, the J.M. Mc- Donald rink manager, told village officials that the center’s board would support aspects of the project that complement its offerings, but not those that compete.
“If we can work together and not compete, we would support it,” Drake said.
“If the rink is going to be something that would harm them, we won’t do it,” McCabe had said earlier in the meeting. “I think this has to be downsized to what is appropriate,” Siegle said.