July 27, 2010


Sports Complex evolving venue

Center branches out in attempt to boost its revenue

ComplexBob Ellis/staff photographer
Erik Charles, center, looks on as his students spar during his mixed martial arts class at the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex. Martial Arts is just one of many activities at the complex.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — When the Ithaca League of Women Rollers hosted an April match at the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex this year, they had the largest attendance on record at the facility with 1,500 spectators.
Roller derby is an event that was not envisioned to be held in the complex when it was originally built, said Larry Hirschfield, president of Cortland Sports Complex Inc., a nonprofit organization that operates the complex. But roller derby is a sport and it’s entertaining, he said.
Since opening in 2004, the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex in the Cortland County Junior Fairgrounds off Homer Avenue, has provided a local venue for the community to watch live sports events and hold summer camps for children.
Since the sports complex’s initial development, it has branched out to provide other events that do not have anything to do with sports or athletics.
The Cortland County Chamber of Commerce Business Showcase has been held at the complex since 2005, said Bob Haight, executive director of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce.
A circus performed at the complex this month and the complex will host a battle of the bands event in September.
In its early stages, the sports complex held only sporting events, particularly those associated with ice rinks, such as ice hockey and skating, Hirschfield said.
Before the complex existed, Hirschfield would take his two sons, who played hockey, to use the ice at SUNY Cortland, but because of some scheduling conflicts, the youth league his children played in was not always guaranteed time on the ice, Hirschfield said.
The motivation behind developing a sports complex was providing children a place to use ice, said Hirschfield who played hockey in high school.
A reason for the evolution of the complex, from sports venue to community venue, is the fact that the complex is a community venue, one to be used and appreciated by all members of the Cortland community, Hirschfield said.
“We’re trying to bring resources to the community,” he said.
Another reason for the evolution of the complex is financial.
Hirschfield said in recent years the complex has struggled to breakeven. During its 2009 season, the complex collected about $640,000 in revenues. The annual operating cost of the complex is $644,196. Hirschfield said the complex used money in reserve funds to make up the loss.
Due to financial uncertainty, the complex has hosted several fundraisers.
In May, a fundraising event called Sneaker Ball, in which guests wore sneakers, raised $9,000 for the complex.
“Although we continually struggle to bring in enough revenues to break-even each year, our success has been in utilizing a diversification strategy in our programming and events. This way, if one sport or activity struggles, hopefully a new one comes in to make up the difference,” said the complex’s executive director, Tammy Demeree Sciera.
This diversification strategy was discussed during the development of the complex, but pertained to other sports and athletics, not nonsporting events, to raise funds for the complex, Hirschfield said.
Hirschfield said Don Battin, another founder of the complex, had been researching ice rinks across the nation, before the complex was built, and decided that dollars raised through rink use would not sustain the operational costs of the complex. Therefore, to supplement costs, the sports complex offers other programs and services, in addition to its ice rink.
The complex has an NHL regulation-size ice rink, two indoor soccer fields, a concession stand, a walking track, a baseball batting cage, event rooms, and floor seating for graduations, concerts and other major events.
The complex also has four tenants: CNY MMA, a mixed martial arts school; a CAPCO Head Start program; a health club called Fitness Gap; and YMCA Gymnastics. The complex also has two after-school programs for students.
“We have to be flexible with adding events because it is so critical to find ways to create revenue streams during the off season to pay the mortgage that is there every month. We make sure that we always comply with the rules that govern the nonprofit organization,” Hirschfield said.
He contends that the highest priority of the complex is the community.
During the Homer Central School District budget hearings, representatives of the complex solicited support from the community to encourage the district to maintain funding for its hockey program, the Cortland-Homer Golden Eagles, which is shared with the Cortland City School District. The Golden Eagles use the rink at the complex for all its practices and games.
“For our community, we can meet the needs people have,” Sciera said, noting the complex can be rented for private events.
As the needs of the community changes, the complex will adapt to those needs, said Hirschfield, explaining that people who are not into sports or athletics can appreciate using the complex.
Jenny Tucker, president of the Cortland Figure Skating Club, which has been using the ice rink at the complex since it opened, said she does not mind the variety of events.
“I don’t have an opinion on what else they do as long as it doesn’t interfere with our ice time,” Tucker said. Tucker said if problems arose, such as with scheduling, the complex would resolve any conflicts.
John Ryan, manager of the CNY MMA, said the complex has been instrumental in the success of the mixed martial arts company.
Building a relationship with the complex looks promising for new clubs and organizations, such as a roller derby league, said Sarah Davidson, co-founder of the Ithaca League of Women Rollers.
J.M. McDonald Sports Complex and the Ithaca League of Women Rollers began talking about the roller derby league using the complex for matches when the Ithaca league’s main venue, Cass Park in Ithaca, needed renovations. Since then, the sports complex has hosted three Ithaca League of Women Rollers roller derby events in April, May and June.
The partnership has been key to starting a Cortland league, Davidson said.
“They (the sports complex) have been absolutely great,” she said. “They are now fostering the growth of Cortland’s own roller derby team.”
The Crown City Rollerz, Cortland’s roller derby league, was founded in April. The Cortland league has one team, the Royal Pains, and will host all of its home matches at the complex.


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