Saugerties is known for having superb recreational facilities; maybe the best in the region. If John Barese has his way and his new arena is built at Cantine Field, the competition won’t even be close.
Plans for the $15 million arena include an indoor turf field, track lanes, an Olympic-size swimming pool and four basketball courts, which could also be used for volleyball and other sports. Most of the clientele would be students, who would be able to use the facility for free during school hours and for special events. According to Barese’s proposal, the facility would be privately owned and operated, and the town would lease seven acres of land for $1 a year for 99 years. He’s proposing a PILOT agreement in which he’d donate five acres of adjacent land to the town in exchange for operating tax-free throughout the lease. He’d also improve the access road ($1 million estimated cost) and turn over the proceeds from parking at special events to the town ($3-10 per vehicle).
Barese, who owns the Starway Café and Pizza Star on Ulster Avenue, said last week that he felt previous town supervisor Greg Helsmoortel was a strong supporter of the project, but he’s received less enthusiastic signals from current supervisor Kelly Myers, who said the town needs to know more about the project’s financing.
“He hasn’t been forthcoming about who the primary financial backer is for the project, and that makes me very uncomfortable,” said Myers. “If he wants the board to cut loose a piece of park land, I really need to know that this has legs and there’s some substance behind it.”
Barese said he wasn’t ready to divulge exactly how the construction and maintenance of the facility would be paid for, although the ideal situation would be a single investor rather than a group.
“We have one person who is very interested,” Barese said. “But we also have plans A, B, C and F.”
Barese was set to speak to the Town Board at its Wednesday, March 7 meeting after the Saugerties Times went to press. Barese is concerned that the momentum he’d felt during the process with Helsmoortel in office might not continue with Myers.
“My gut feeling is not a good one,” he said. “I want Saugerties residents to say, ‘Yes, we want you to do this,’” Barese said. “Any concerns, I want them to ask me.”
Myers said a public hearing would be the next step if the board feels they have enough information after Wednesday’s meeting to move forward.
“I have a lot of questions,” she said. “We’ll be shedding quite a bit of light on this in order to give people in the town an opportunity to weigh in on it if a meeting is scheduled.”
The complex would include an indoor turf field that could be configured for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, baseball and softball. It would also include a 200-meter 6-lane and an 8-lane straight track. The size of the track, Barese said, would make the area appealing for tournament use, especially as West Point recently discontinued hosting tournaments and the Armory in New York City is prohibitively far, not only for Saugerties, but from other districts in the state. The facility would have an Olympic-size swimming pool, and four multipurpose courts which could be used for basketball, volleyball, wrestling and other sports. Additionally, the facility would include a restaurant, snack bar and multipurpose community rooms.
Barese noted that the influx of visitors for special events at the complex wouldn’t negatively impact the village, as the plan is to blast a road through the western portion of the roughly seven-acre property to allow access through North Street, which he said would not only make it easy to get to and from the New York State Thruway, but would also provide an emergency road.
“We’re not asking anything of taxpayers and we’re not asking anything of Governor (Andrew) Cuomo,” Barese said. “We’re not talking sales tax or income tax. We’re talking about property tax. Right now that property is just sitting there doing nothing. What we’re trying to do is not only beneficial to the town of Saugerties, but to Ulster County and the State of New York.”
Year-round access would be beneficial to Saugerties athletes, says Barese.
“We want to give the kids in Ulster County a chance to become what they want to become,” he said. “If you want to become a professional athlete, there’s only one way you’re going to achieve that; you’re going to have to practice your butt off 365 days a year. And the only way that you’re going to be able to do that is if you have an inside facility that can provide you with that.”
The project includes input from legal and engineering experts as well as from former longtime SUNY Ulster soccer coach George Vizvary, and Ricardo Ortiz, who provides Spanish language play-by-play commentary for ESPN. The architect on the plans is BASCON, Inc. of Cincinnati, and the engineering firm is the ubiquitous Praetorius & Conrad of Saugerties.
“We’ve been working on this for close to two years,” said Barese.
Among the voices of support included in the proposal are letters from officials from both the Saugerties and Kingston school districts. The Saugerties officials were particularly excited about the possibility of establishing a varsity swim team.
Also offering letters of support were Saugerties physical therapist James Rauh and Nick Badalato, varsity track & field coach at Kingston High, who tried in the past to come up with a similar proposal.
“I fully endorse this project, and am very confident that this facility will not only benefit the youth of this county, but will benefit the entire community,” wrote Badalato.
Myers said Barese agreed to her suggestion that he also include the Board of Education in the conversation.
The proposal includes a number of projected startup costs, covering everything from a portable thrower’s cage ($14,100) to a pole vault pit ($17,485), and a turf vacuum ($15,000) to soccer balls (36 at a total of $1,080). The restaurant will cost an estimated $200,000 to start up, the snack bar $45,000, and the sporting goods store $15,000. There are also estimated salaries for employees, including a general manager ($50,000), assistant general manager ($35,000), pool manager ($25,000), and others.
Also covered are membership fees, both for families and groups, to use the facility when portions of it aren’t in use for special events. Fees for recreational teams and tournaments are also covered in the proposal, and corporate advertising is mentioned as a possible revenue source as well.
“We’re pretty reasonable and competitive with YMCA,” Barese said of the membership fees. “And I bet you we’re going to be able to do better than that, too.”
Barese said he’d been dreaming of a project like this for over a decade, and prior to spotting the space at Cantine Field considered sites in other local communities, including TechCity in the town of Ulster and others along Kings Highway and State Route 209. He said he also previously had informal conversations with representatives of Horse Shows in the Sun.