New athletic dome planned for SUNY Schenectady grounds


SCHENECTADY — Can you kick it?

Yes, you can.

Albany-based soccer club Black Watch Premier is planning to build an athletic complex at SUNY Schenectady.

The facility will occupy the green space behind the college hemmed in between I-890 and the Mohawk River, a 12-acre parcel officials contend has long been underused.

Preliminary plans call for a dome with an indoor soccer field and four basketball courts as well as several outdoor soccer fields, including three each of artificial turf and natural grass, county Attorney Chris Gardner wrote in a memo to county officials.

Volleyball facilities are also planned. Few additional details are available, including the timeline and project costs.

“It really takes an area that’s underutilized and turns it into an asset for us,” said Schenectady County Legislature Majority Leader Gary Hughes.

Black Watch will enter into a 25-year lease agreement with the county, which will retain ownership of the site.

While it once hosted track and baseball, the site is currently not being used for those sports (but is open for pedestrian and bicyclist use).

The county Legislature’s Economic Development and Planning Committee voted Monday to set a public hearing for a local law to authorize the lease agreement, a precursor for the deal.

Black Watch Premier Sporting Director Steve Freeman declined comment Monday afternoon.

“We will issue a statement or be available for comment with SCCC and the county after the necessary meetings have taken place,” Freeman said.

Freeman didn’t respond when asked if he was referring strictly to Monday night’s county Legislature meeting or additional meetings.

The tentative deal comes just weeks after Black Watch was selected to join Major League Soccer’s Elite Youth Development Program, membership that will allow for elite year-round competition, player identification initiatives, coaching education opportunities and additional player development events.

Black Watch will pay an annual lease of $27,782 to SUNY Schenectady, and offer $27,781 in monetary credit via rental rates. Gardner said in the memo, “There is also an opportunity for a 25-year renewal term.”

Lawmakers at Monday’s committee meeting did not ask any questions about the project.

“This multi-million construction project is at no cost to the county or SUNY Schenectady,” Gardner wrote.

Students and faculty will have access to the facility.

While officials praised the location as one providing easy access, its proximity to the river has resulted in past flooding.

Black Watch is aware of the conditions, Hughes said, which is reflected in the property valuation of $640,000.

“Essentially it hasn’t been used in a long time,” said Hughes, who said the facility will also generate sales and bed tax revenue for the county from athletes and their families.

“Travel sports is becoming such a key piece of economic development for us,” Hughes said.

Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said officials also will work with Discover Schenectady to lure in additional conferences and tournaments.

“We think it’s a very exciting opportunity and we’re very happy to bring it forward,” Gillen told lawmakers on Monday.

SUNY Schenectady President Dr. Steady Moono hopes the facility, dubbed as “High Performance Sports Center” in project materials, will drum up interest from prospective students.

“It will give us an opportunity for recruitment in these days of a very competitive admissions process,” Moono said.

Moono also said the complex will tie into the college’s health and wellness efforts, and perhaps pave the way for SUNY Schenectady to launch its own volleyball and soccer programs.

“I know of a handful [of students] who only stayed for a semester and went to another school that had soccer,” Moono said.

Moono himself is a former collegiate soccer player who came to the U.S. from Zambia and played at Messiah College, a liberal arts school in Pennsylvania.

“Soccer helped me a lot in terms of developing character and teamwork, and it really exposed me to a vocation,” Moono said. “Without soccer, I wouldn’t have had a college degree.”

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