Existing sportsplex opposes Niagara Falls Soccer Clubs plans
A Hamilton-based businessman who is one of the owners of the already-existing Niagara Falls Sportsplex indoor soccer field filed an appeal with the OMB over the city's zoning change that opened the way for the new field.
The Niagara Falls Soccer Club wants to build a 64,000-square-foot building with indoor fields for soccer and other sports on Swayze Dr. between Stanley and Sinnicks aves. The Niagara Falls Sportsplex, a 48,000-square-foot sports dome opened in 2005, is located on Sinnicks Ave., about one kilometre from the proposed site.
In a 1,200-word email in response to The Niagara Falls Review's request for comment about the OMB appeal, businessman Joe Futlesa blasted the project and council's decision to allow it to move forward.
"I'm not against the soccer club having their own facility," Futlesa wrote. "What I am against is that the application does not meet so many of the good pieces of municipal regulation that control good, responsible development in a community.
"Haphazard planning causes municipal infrastructure problems which in the end cost taxpayers needless additional dollars. As an investor and ratepayer, I can not support this rezoning application."
The Niagara Falls Soccer Club first presented its proposal to build a $4-million indoor sports complex to city council in March and asked for financial assistance for the development and construction costs.
In June, council committed $1 million to the project on the understanding it would be paid back if the club received funding from the federal government. Earlier this month, soccer club president Tim Chamberlain found out the federal funding had fallen through, leaving the city on the hook for the $1-million contribution.
But Chamberlain said the project could never have made it this far without that commitment.
"Without their support, this wouldn't have been a reality. City council should be commended and congratulated," he said. "We're a not-for-profit community group. We're not a private business. We're a local sports group and what we're doing is trying to fill the mission of the soccer club that was created many years ago to provide as many opportunities for kids as possible."
Futlesa says he opposes the project because it doesn't fit the recreational requirements of Niagara Falls.
His OMB appeal is based on that belief, and council's zoning bylaw approval in October that allowed the project to move forward.
"The need to provide variances and adjustments to almost every aspect of the zoning bylaw speaks for itself as to why this is not a good project for the proposed location," he said. "Our expert planners and engineers will demonstrate during their submissions to the OMB why this is an example of poor planning.
"On top of this, the proposal . does not even meet the city's Recreational Master Plan."
The deadline for the OMB appeal was Dec. 22 and Futlesa's application was received by city clerk Dean Iorfida at 3:55 p.m. that day.
Iorfida confirmed it was the only appeal filed on the project.
"Usually, it takes a good six to nine months before an OMB hearing is scheduled, so it puts some delays into the matter," he said. "It's interesting. Usually an OMB appeal is based on more of your typical planning matters. This one is more looking the broader recreational needs."
Chamberlain didn't seem too surprised by the appeal.
"I understand there has been an appeal by the other soccer field and I'm a little bit disappointed, but I'm still very confident the project will go through," he said.
The Niagara Falls Soccer Club has also been criticized for not yet submitting a complete business plan to the city, but Chamberlain said everything but the financial aspect of the plan was submitted in November. The financial "module" will be delivered in about a month, he said.
"There were quite a few things I had to have in place first before getting the commitment from a bank," he said.
The soccer club has a commitment of $750,000 from Niagara Olympia Homes for the naming rights and Chamberlain said the club is close to meeting its goal of fundraising another $250,000 toward the project. The rest of the funding for the facility would come from the city's $1 million commitment and from $2 million in bank financing.
Chamberlain said he feels the development is needed in Niagara Falls and believes there's more support for it than it appears.
"I don't think there has been a lot of controversy with the majority of people. It's basically a small group of people that have scrutinized this and probably have a lot of misinformation," he said.
"We have bits and pieces of it and we're still waiting for other pieces of information," city CAO Ken Todd told council this week. "One of the proponents was away and, I think, they're back now, so we're hoping to get that in front of council if not at the December meeting, hopefully early January."
On Monday night, city councillors approved zoning changes, which moves a proposal to construct a roughly 64,000-square-foot building with indoor soccer fields and amenities for other sports on Swayze Dr., west of the CN Railway, between Stanley Ave. and Sinnicks Ave., through the ongoing development process.
The project has been under scrutiny since June, when council committed $1 million to the facility.
Some councillors criticized the decision to grant the club that much public money before studying the club's finances and business plan.
Supporters of the project say the $1 million would be paid back to the city should the club receive the entire $1 million it has applied for in federal funding. If Ottawa does not provide the soccer club with any money, the club would keep the $1 million given by the city.
Some councillors have also questioned why a business plan has yet to be presented to them, and asked where a federal funding grant application stands.
"That is the only one that we haven't received information about," Todd said about the grant application.
"Even though the bylaw is here tonight, building permits, or nothing like that, will be issued until we have a full report."
Coun. Vince Kerrio said there's some public confusion about the agreement between the city and the soccer club.
"Some people don't know what the criteria and the conditions are. I know what they are ... (the soccer club would) have to put their money in first and our money is last. But I just want to make sure that everybody else understands the criteria and the conditions for the city to participate financially."
Todd said that information will be included in the next report council receives.
"It will outline, in detail, what those conditions are, how any money would be advanced, at which stage," he said.
Coun. Wayne Thomson said the soccer club is a private-sector volunteer group which has been running soccer programs for many years.
"I have a lot of confidence in the people behind the effort to do this," he said.
"I think the city CAO made it clear that no money will be going out until such time that the business plan has been finalized. We will scrutinize and examine the business proposal before any money is expended."
"No money will be going out until all of the I's are dotted and T's are crossed," said Diodati. "That has always been the situation."
But the way the club's president sees things, the $1-million commitment has been made and it's time to move forward.
"From what I've been told by senior staff, the money is set in stone," said Tim Chamberlain.
Council has come under criticism from some quarters, including from the owner of the city's only existing indoor soccer facility, for granting the NFSC that much public money before studying financial details and a business plan.
Diodati said councillors will receive a "very comprehensive" staff report in the near future outlining such information.
"There are a lot of strings attached before any money is sent out. No final decision has been made. The final decision will be made after all of the necessary information is studied and understood."
When council committed the $1 million to the club during a June 13 meeting, Coun. Carolynn Ioannoni, along with Coun. Janice Wing, voted against the decision.
At a meeting July 18, Ioannoni questioned whether council was putting the cart before the horse by granting the $1 million before reviewing financial details and a business plan.
"When does all that come to the city?" said Ioannoni. "I understand council approved $1 million, but those would be stipulations (NFSC has) to follow."
At that same meeting, Chamberlain said he has a detailed financial and business plan, as well as particulars on the club's banking and financing history, and will submit that information to staff members during an upcoming meeting.
"I never expected the city to hand us the $1 million until we broke ground and we met all the expectations and obligations that were required on our end, so it's not just a handout," said Chamberlain.
Ken Todd, the city's chief administrative officer, said council can expect to receive a report in time for its Aug. 15 meeting.
During an interview with The Niagara Falls Review, Diodati said he took the approved June motion from Coun. Victor Pietrangelo as an indication council is "interested in going in this direction, but there remains questions to be answered.
The $1 million, if council maintains its financial commitment, would be paid back to the city should the NFSC receive the entire $1 million that it has applied for in federal P3 funding. If Ottawa does not provide the soccer club with any money, the club would then keep the $1 million given by the city.
Niagara Falls is currently facing a $75-million debt.
Staff had initially recommended council support the NFSC's proposal in principle, but that it limit its contribution to in-kind services and technical support, as well as investigating other possible grant and revenue opportunities.
Council, however, decided to grant Chamberlain's request for the city to commit $1 million, pending a decision on the P3 funding application. The idea was to help the club move ahead with the project while the P3 funding application makes its way through the approval process.
Henry Muller, the owner of the city's only indoor field, has called the NFSC's plan "ill advised" and said the city's support should be given a "second look."
Muller is a long-time Niagara Falls property developer who owns the Niagara Falls Sportsplex on Sinnicks Ave. The owner of the former Muller's Meats now lives in Ancaster.
"You have a situation where the council rushed into something without some substantial information in front of them, just promises," he said.
He said the city cannot sustain two indoor facilities and that both will suffer because of the NFSC project.
"If it was necessary to build another indoor facility, I'd be on their side," he said. "But it's not. We have space."
Muller said he's not going to predict what council will ultimately do, but cautions them to be "very careful" in its final decision.
"I don't think Tim can come up with an answer to all of the questions because No. 1, he hasn't got a business plan, which he should have had before he walked in and No. 2, the naming rights and seller of the property and builder is all the same person. If you put that together, show me the $750,000 in cash?"
Chamberlain said the newly named Niagara Olympia Homes Recreation and Education Centre is on pace to be built by the end of the year or early 2012. He said Niagara Olympia Homes purchased the naming rights of the facility.
"There is a demand for this facility," said Chamberlain, noting the club's increased membership and hours rented by travel coaches.
"We are to promote soccer, children, healthy environment, social skills within the city of Niagara Falls."
Chamberlain said he is disappointed by the controversy created because of the $1-million commitment to a non-profit organization.
"Here I am seven years as a volunteer ... my job as president is to move this club in the best possible direction as I can. This new indoor facility would accomplish that goal.
"All I'm doing is trying to provide an indoor facility with an educational component, free to every one of our members, boys and girls.
"This is probably one of the best deals the city can get involved in. When this project is done, everyone will be proud of it."
Niagara Falls Soccer Club would pay back $1 million from city if it receives federal grant
The funding was approved for the privately-run club on the condition that if it receives the $1 million in federal grant money it will be applying for, it would have to pay the city back.
If that federal money doesn't come through, however, the club would keep the money put up by the city.
The soccer club plans to build a 4,287-square-metre year-round indoor soccer facility on Swayze Dr. between Stanley Ave. and Heritage Dr. by the end of 2011.
"I'm very pleased, very pleased," NFSC president Tim Chamberlain said after Monday's meeting. "It's a huge turning point not only for the city but the association. Number one, kids in the community. We definitely now have an opportunity to train year-round. It's a win-win situation for the club and the city."
The NFSC has been operating since 1959 and is an independent, not-for-profit organization and is run primarily by volunteers. The club has two paid administrators, Chamberlain said.
A majority of council supported councillor Victor Pietrangelo's motion to have the city commit to providing financial aid to the 2,000-member club, yet Carolyn Ioannoni and Janice Wing questioned the merit of putting up so much cash when the city can't even afford to upkeep its own parks.
"The bottom line is, we don't have $1 million," Ioannoni said. "We can't afford to fix our own parks en masse right now - I don't know why we'd get involved in this."
At a council meeting last month, councillor Wayne Gates pointed out the shoddy condition of Preakness Neighbourhood Park, which prompted city staff to look into the condition of all park playgrounds across the city to determine which ones need repair.
Wing and Iaonnoni said the city needs to focus on its own parks and recreation facilities instead of helping to fund outside organizations no matter how worthwhile their causes.
"We just can't afford to take anything like this on right now," Wing said.
Council also voted to give the club an estimated $100,000 worth of so-called 'in-kind services' which would waive development charges, building permit fees, and site-plan processing fees.
After the council meeting, Mayor Jim Diodati, who as mayor did not vote on the motion, said he would've supported it had he been called upon to be a tie-breaker.
Diodati said the city is essentially getting a $4-million facility for $1 million, money which he stressed would only be kept by the club if it doesn't receive federal funding in the form of a P3 Canada grant. He said the city's financial commitment amounts to 25-cent dollars because the community would be getting a new facility for a quarter of the estimated price.
"This isn't for elite athletes, this is for 2,000 kids and the community," Diodati said. "So I think if you can get 25-cent dollars to build a year-round facility, that's a good return on your investment."
Diodati said the longterm value of the facility will make the city's potential $1-million price-tag worth it.
"Kids who are busy and active don't get into trouble," Diodati said. "Anytime we can encourage physical activity, teamwork, team play, I'm all supportive of it."
Chamberlain, who said he is retired and does not get paid a cent for the 60 hours he devotes to the club each week, was hugged and cheered on by supporters who accompanied him to the meeting, where he made a deputation to council.
He said the club has begun the process of becoming a charitable organization that would make it exempt from paying property taxes.
As well, he said the club has potentially secured $750,000 in naming rights for the facility. He would not elaborate, saying that deal was contingent on Monday's council decision and that he was planning to call that potential buyer of the naming rights after the meeting.
In addition to Pietrangelo, councillors Wayne Thomson, Vince Kerrio, Bart Maves, Wayne Gates and Joyce Morocco voted in favour of the motion.
Wing and Iaonnoni did not support it.
A report prepared by city staff for Monday's meeting stated that if the city council was to approve funding for the soccer club, it would have to "defer an approved 2011 capital project or commit funding from the 2012 Capital Budget."
The report also said that "financial stability is a strategic priority that directs staff to ensure resources are focused on core city programs and services."
Pietrangelo told council that the city's commitment was a reasonable one.
"We're only asking to fund 25% (of the indoor facility) and that's a maybe - that's only if their application for the P3 Canada Fund grant is unsuccessful," he said.
The federal government's $1.2-billion P3 Canada Fund - the Ps refer to public-private partnerships - offers funding for public-use infrastructure projects that involve the private sector.
The program offers to cover up to 25% of cost of the construction of eligible projects.
"We meet all the criteria," Chamberlain said. "The mission of our soccer club and our constitution meets all of the criteria that the P3 Canada Fund is looking for."
Indoor soccer field pitched
Niagara Falls Soccer Club presents plan at City Hall
Author: Niagara This Week
Forget hockey - the beautiful game of "footy" is quickly becoming the most popular sport in the city.
That's at least according to the Niagara Falls Soccer Club, whose membership has grown from 650 to 1,800 players over the past four years, and could rise even higher this season.
"We turned away 32 teams last year due to a lack of field space", said President Tim Chamberlain.
"It's the most affordable and fastest growing sport in Canada, especially with the economy the way it is".
Chamberlain and Vice President Nick Montanaro were at City Hall on Monday evening to unveil plans for a new indoor training facility on Swayze Drive.
The NFSC has already purchased a plot of land for the proposed $3.5 million training and education complex, and is eager to take the next step in the developmental stage. "We could definitely use some support, but if there's no money available, we understand" said Chamberlain.
The league president doesn't want to burden taxpayers, but appealed to council on Monday for any available finances.
Montanaro noted that a 50/50 split with the city would be "ideal" but the duo are open to any number of cost-sharing strategies proposed by staff - including help with taxes and development fees.
On a broad level, the club simply wants to keep its top-flite players in Niagara Falls year-round, rather than lose them to neighbouring communities.
"My job is to get as many kids as possible playing the game" said Chamberlain. "We need an indoor facility for elite training".
The club currently runs its fall and winter program at the 48,000 square-foot Niagara Falls Sportsplex, but a lack of available space and rising fees are forcing many teams to practice elsewhere.
The brand-new Players Paradise Sports Complex in Stoney Creek is becoming more of a regional draw, with soccer coaches from Saltfleet District High School in Hamilton offering elite year-round training.
Vice President Tony Falasca said most of his players are from Stoney Creek, but a few are starting to trickle in from Niagara.
The NFSC wants to change all of that with their new facility, and offer advanced training in all walks of life for local players.
"We want to have free tutoring available so the kids don't fall behind in their studies" said Chamberlain.
League executives are currently in talks with the District School Board of Niagara, and want to offer free lessons from university teaching assistants on the second floor of the building.
Coun. Wayne Thomson likes the project, but said council can offer "nothing specific" until more details emerge. He wants senior staff to explore the matter, and report back with more information.
The 51-year-old club has a lengthy history of community involvement, including a recent $2,500 donation to the Mitchelson Park splashpad, and a $2,000 donation to Project SHARE.
Chamberlain is hoping his long-standing partnership with the city will help make the complex a reality.