December 2, 2021

County allocates $500,000 of COVID monies to expand local sports complex

Photo provided by Cortland Youth Bureau

The Gutchess Lumber Sports Park is shown above in its current state. Cortlandville is getting Phase 2 of the project underway, which will include adding two baseball diamonds, more parking and grading.

The Cortland County Legislature approved the use of $500,000 of COVID funding toward the development of two baseball fields at the Gutchess Lumber Sports Complex and Town Park.

The town of Cortlandville has invested $3 million toward the project and is proposing a further expansion of the complex, with the help of county funding, to provide additional economic impact for the community.

The Cortland County Federal Aid Allocation Citizen’s Advisory Committee endorsed the proposal, and the full Legislature voted (12-4) Thursday in favor of investing the half a million dollars from the Federal American Rescue Plan funds, split over two years, to expand the park facilities. John DelVecchio, attorney for the town of Cortlandville, said the agreement with Prep Baseball Repor, or PBR, could turn the town and county into a sports tourism destination.

Homer High School, Cortland High School, Cortland Crush and Little League organizations will be allowed to use the facilities for practice and games. Legislator Beau Harbin (D-Cortland) pointed out to fellow legislators that the contract states that PBR gets to decide when the other groups can use the fields.

“The reason we’re asking for this money from the Legislature is to see a return for Cortlandville’s investment,” DelVecchio said, referring to the Legislature’s involvement as an investment in the town and county alike. “The baseball fields are going to produce a return on investment.”

Legislators Doug Bentley (D-Cortland), Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland), Ann Homer (D-Cortland) and Harbin voted in opposition, and Legislator Kelly Preston (U-Homer) was absent.

“I’m concerned about the fact that we seem to rush through spending half a million dollars of taxpayers’ money,” Harbin said, prefacing his vote against the resolution. “I‘d be more than happy to put forward monies that would benefit everyone, but my worry is that members of this board don’t understand that this $500,000 is going to be spent to build two new ball fields that will be under the exclusive control of a for-profit, private company.”

Machell Phelps, executive director of the Cortland Regional Sports Council, said the contract with PBR will bring big opportunities to Cortland County through baseball contacts.

“For once I’d like to be on the forefront of things, instead of trying to make up ground after the fact,” Phelps said. The sports council intends to pursue the state baseball tournament, and Phelps believes PBR will be a great partner. “There’s a lot of contacts we have in other sporting areas that we’re going to be able to bring out there once the park is fully developed.”

Meghan Lawton, executive director of the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said this is an opportunity to bring in more visitors — and revenue — into the county.

“You’re going to see a difference,” Lawton said. “It’s an amazing attraction for Cortland County. We should be proud of the fact that we have this national organization of this caliber that wants to come here and work with us and bring us up even higher than we already are.”

Legislator Eugene Waldbauer (R-Cortlandville) said he voted in favor of allocating the COVID monies because the sports complex will benefit the community.

“The town is doing something big and beneficial here — they did the work, they did the homework — they’re doing this for the benefits that it will provide,” Waldbauer said. “With this resolution, the county has the opportunity to use stimulus funds that were created just for things like this project, that the town has already successfully created to bring even greater benefits to the taxpayers in the county.”