Businesses score with regional sports dollars


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Soccer fans from the Rochester area have dinner Friday at Hairy Tony’s on Main Street. The group was among many out-of-towners in Cortland for the New York state high school girls soccer semi-finals Friday and the finals today.  It was a happy dinner as the team, the Aquinas Institute Lil’ Irish, won the semi and will be playing for the state championship today.    

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The employees at the Deli Downtown on Main Street are used to a daily rush around the noon lunch hour, but when a bus containing the entire Sachem East High School girls’ soccer team rolled up Thursday afternoon, the eyes behind the counter at the deli widened considerably.
“We had no idea what was going on,” said deli employee Luke Young. “The bus driver walked in and asked to talk to the manager, and the next thing we knew they were just flooding in.”
The deli suddenly had to scramble to fill the orders of 27 players, three coaches, two chaperones and a trainer, but that generation of business is exactly what makes events like this weekend’s High School Girl’s Soccer Championships a boon for Cortland County, said Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce.
“Bringing in 500 or 600 soccer players and their parents and coaching staff is great for the community,” VanGorder said. “We want them to have a great time here, and, realistically, we know they’re bringing their wallets with them, which generates revenue for businesses and brings sales tax dollars into the community.”
This weekend’s soccer tournament, which draws 20 teams from across the state to compete in the state finals, was arranged by the Cortland Regional Sports Council. VanGorder serves on the council’s board of directors.
The CRSC was formed after SUNY Cortland hosted part of the 2002 Empire State Games and since then has been working to draw sporting events to the area, VanGorder said.
“We felt like we had a real opportunity in Cortland to take advantage of our location and the facilities we have available,” he said, adding that the recently built stadium complex at SUNY Cortland is the “crown jewel” of the area’s sporting facilities.
When the Cortlandville Town Board contributed $7,500 to the CRSC earlier this year, Supervisor Dick Tupper praised the council for the business it brings to the town.
“My kids used to be in traveling sports, and the way it is for those families is, when the kids wanted to eat, you ate, and even if they picked the most expensive restaurant, you ate there,” Tupper said. “Whenever they bring in these tournaments, families fill up the hotels and restaurants.”
Tupper was hopeful the town could work with the CRSC to parlay the two Little League fields being built at the Starr Road Community Park into a Little League tournament down the road.
“Between our new fields and the ones in Homer, we could have four Little League-approved fields and we could get 12 to 15 games going a day,” he said. “Something like that could have a great economic impact on the county.”
Among the higher profile events the Sports Council has brought to Cortland to date include the soccer championships, the Girls’ High School Lacrosse Championships and the New York State Volleyball Championships.
Those three events alone have generated about $600,000 of business in Cortland County, according to the CRSC, and the numerous other events the CRSC has helped sponsor have generated more than $1.3 million of business since 2004.
Those figures come from standard state travel industry estimates, based on the number of people visiting the area, and the amount of time they stay, Van Gorder said.
When the state semi-finals for girls’ soccer were held in Cortland in November of 2004, an estimated $209,000 of business was brought into the area, bringing business to restaurants, retailers and hotels, he said.
At the Hampton Inn on River Street Friday afternoon, as a team from Somers High School congregated in the lobby to head out for lunch, hotel General Manager Jeff Lee called sports tournaments such as this one a “great deal” for the hotel.
“Especially this particular weekend, right before a holiday, most hotels in the industry drop in occupancy and have trouble filling rooms, so this is fantastic for business,” Lee said. “They’re great kids, we’ve had no problems, and we’d love to have them back next year.”
Meanwhile across the lobby, Carolyn Richard, Nicolle Barcia and Samantha Cole of the Somers squad debated where the team should go to lunch.
“We always say McDonald’s but they never take us,” Cole said.
“That’s because you can’t have fast food before a game,” replied Barcia, who was lobbying for “anything but fast food.”
All three girls agreed that their visit to Cortland had been better than their last trip to a tournament in Corning.
“There’s a lot more food choices here,” Richard said. “And the hotel’s really nice, so it’s a lot better than the last town.”
To make sure visiting teams and families are aware of what’s available in the area, the CRSC produces maps of restaurants and hotels and sets up a community liaison that each team can call for information, VanGorder said.
“Anybody with kids active in sports knows that when you go to a tournament out of town, the last thing you want is to be sitting in a hotel wondering where to go to get a pizza,” he said.
The East Sachem team that swarmed the Deli Downtown had its own guide, 2006 SUNY Cortland graduate Danielle Turner, who landed a job as a physical education teacher at the school and was serving as a chaperone.
“They were looking for something kind of quick, but not fast food, so I told them I knew a pretty good place downtown,” Turner said.
As his players giggled excitedly, taking up all but a few tables at the deli, Sachem East coach Ralph Forman said every meal over the next few days would be similarly hectic.
“It’s pretty fast paced,” Forman said. “But we’ll be doing this as long as we’re here, as long as we win.”


Off-duty city officer hits two pedestrians, charged with DWI

Managing Editor

CORTLAND — An off-duty city police officer was charged with driving while intoxicated after hitting two 55-year-old women who were walking across Church Street Friday night, injuring both, city police said. One woman remains in critical condition today.
Patrolman Jeffrey C. “Chipper” Stockton, a seven-year veteran of the police force, was westbound on Central Avenue at 6:40 p.m. and was turning south onto Church Street at the time of the accident, said Lt. Jon Gesin of the Cortland Police Department. His car hit Lyn Briggs and Melody A. Benn, who were walking west in a crosswalk at the intersection. They were in the passing lane of the westbound side of Church Street when they were struck, police said.
After the accident, Stockton called 911 on his cell phone and waited for emergency crews to arrive, Gesin said. Firefighters reached the scene within minutes from their Court Street station around the corner.
“The one victim was unresponsive at the scene,” Gesin said, referring to Briggs.
Briggs, of 65 Central Ave., Apt. 10, received serious head injuries. She was taken to Cortland Regional Medical Center by TLC Emergency Medical Services ambulance within a few minutes of the accident, Gesin said.
A medical helicopter was called to expedite her transfer to University Hospital in Syracuse, but bad weather conditions ruled out that option, Gesin said, and TLC transported her.
Emergency surgery was done Friday night at the Syracuse hospital, he said. The hospital this morning would only confirm that she still was listed in critical condition.
Benn, of 65 Central Ave., Apt. 11, was alert and conscious after the accident, but was also transported to University Hospital as a precaution. University Hospital said she was listed in fair condition this morning.
“Her injuries are not believed to be life threatening,” Gesin said.
Gesin said Stockton had a green light and the women, friends who were walking together, had a “walk” light at the time of the accident. Gesin said. He said Stockton should have yielded to the pedestrians.
Stockton, 38, of 16 Frank St., Cortland, was charged with felony second-degree vehicular assault, misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and a traffic violation for failure to exercise due care.
If Briggs dies from her injuries, District Attorney David Hartnett would review the case and determine if additional charges will be filed, Gesin said.
Stockton was arraigned in City Court with his attorney, Mark Suben, and released on his own recognizance. Stockton is scheduled to appear in City Court again Wednesday.
Gesin said Stockton last worked the overnight shift from Wednesday into Thursday and was not working Friday.
Gesin said he is not yet sure where Stockton had been and where he was headed at the time of the accident.
Stockton was suspended with pay pending an internal police department investigation that will be coordinated by Chief Jim Nichols, Gesin said. Nichols was not immediately available for comment this morning.
The criminal investigation will be coordinated by Lt. Paul Sandy, an investigator for the city police.
It was dark at the time of the accident. Gesin said there are streetlights nearby, but it was too early to determine all of the factors that may have contributed to the accident.
Anyone who witnessed the accident is asked to contact city police at (607) 753-3001, Ext. 0. The investigation is ongoing, Sandy said this morning.



BDC/IDA director upbeat on local economy

Staff Reporter

Cortland County is showing signs of emerging from a long economic winter, the county’s top economic development leader said in her annual report outlined Thursday.
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the county Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency, issued her report during a county Agriculture/Planning Committee meeting.
“After a long period of decline, from about 1980 to 2000, we’re finally starting to see a reversal of those trends,” Hartsock said, referring to population decline, job loss and other economic indicators.
Pointing to census data from 2005, Hartsock noted that the median household income has risen about $5,000 since 2000, from about $32,000 to $37,000.
Also, the percentage of white-collar jobs had risen from 52.2 percent to 55.9 percent from 2000 to 2005, while the number of households in the county had increased from 18,210 to 19,506.
Hartsock also said she believed the trend of young people leaving the area was reversing.
One particularly encouraging number from the census data was the fact that, from the year 2000 to 2005, the median year during which county residents moved into the area went from 1983 to 1997, indicating an inward population movement.
“That’s just such a dramatic change, it shows that people are moving here,” she said.
This movement was likely spurred by relatively low property costs, compared to nearby Ithaca and major metropolitan areas, Hartsock suggested.
“Personally, I think it has to do with affordability,” she said. “This is a very affordable real estate market, but there’s also a high quality of life.”
Hartsock also opined that more movement into the area is leading to an influx of young entrepreneurs.
“I get e-mail inquiries on a weekly basis from folks looking to connect with people and businesses in this area,” she said.




Removal of McGraw bridge to cost $15,000

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — Sometime after Thanksgiving, Economy Paving will demolish a bridge in the village that was heavily damaged during flooding at the end of July.
The local paving company’s $15,000 offer was accepted on Tuesday.
The town of Cortlandville owns and is responsible for the East Academy Street Bridge over Smith Brook, and Superintendent of Highways Carl Bush said a footbridge would temporarily be put in the place of the narrow, two-way bridge that is being removed.
Because the estimated project costs are under $20,000, Bush said the town did not need to go through a formal bidding process for the project, but he did send bid requests out to four companies, and Economy Paving had the lowest bid, at just under $15,000.
The money will come out of the 2006 highway department budget.
The bridge has remained closed since the July 28 flood, when debris from upstream clogged the area underneath the bridge and damaged parts of the superstructure, especially the upstream railing.
The town had been waiting for National Grid to remove the gas line that is connected to the bottom of the upstream side of the bridge, but the company told Bush in August that the battered pipe would be removed when the rest of the bridge is demolished.
“The gas company is going to come in and they’re going to line bore a line under the creek,” once the bridge is removed, Bush said Wednesday evening.
Bush said a pre-fabricated foot bridge with a 6-foot-wide deck will be erected for the time being, but that until the current bridge is removed and the concrete stream retaining walls are evaluated, he does not know how long the foot bridge would be, or how much it would cost.