The soccer stadium that was supposed to turn around a neighborhood may yet have that opportunity.
The Oak Street site, the former home of the Rochester Rhinos soccer team that hasn’t been there since 2018, is being turned into the Rochester Community Sports Complex. The stadium will host sports and events, and the adjacent warehouse will be converted into the first indoor training site in the city.
“With no access to indoor training facilities nearby or athletic trainers who can help with injury prevention, student-athletes in Rochester are at a competitive disadvantage,” Mayor Lovely Warren said in a news release that announced a $460,000 grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation to help with the transformation.
She said that the Rochester Community Sports Complex will address this inequity and “level the playing field” for city athletes with their suburban competition.
“Having an indoor practice facility will create additional opportunities for our youth to participate in sports that require practices, scrimmages, and playing time when outdoor venues are covered in snow and not usable,” says Carlos Cotto, executive director of health, physical education and athletics for the Rochester City School District.
The project is expected to cost $2.1 million. The city has committed $1.64 million. On Jan. 21, City Council voted 8-0 (with Malik Evans abstaining) to accept the grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. The foundation was established with proceeds of the sale of the Buffalo Bills after founder Wilson died. The $1.2 billion in assets will be distributed through 2035 and go to, among other things, promoting active lifestyles.
The Rochester Area Community Foundation applied for the grant on behalf of the city and other partners – the school district, the University of Rochester Sports Medicine Division, Greater Rochester Youth Sports Foundation and Greater Rochester After-School Alliance.
Figuring out what to do with the soccer stadium was a priority for the city after Rhinos owners David and Wendy Dworkin announced that they were suspending play for 2019, with the aim of returning to the United Soccer League in 2020 in a new, suburban stadium. However, as of Jan. 21, their website www.rhinossoccer.com had no updates.
The facility opened in 2006, and had been called Capelli Sport Stadium, Sahlen’s Stadium, Rochester Rhinos Stadium, PAETEC Park and Marina Auto Stadium. The city supported the facility financially and had budgeted $919,000 for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, according to its news release.
During development of the current budget, city residents were asked about plans to turn the stadium into a community sports complex. According to a poll, 71% of respondents favored the new use.
The Rochester Community Sports Complex fits with the mayor’s commitment to improve academic achievement and health outcomes of city residents, particularly young people. The city said it has invested in the Department of Recreation and Youth Services, which operates 14 community centers, 16 after-school programs, a waterways center, two ice rinks, five pools and 68 parks and playgrounds, sports fields, courts and spray parks.
“All kids should have the opportunity to play, but access to safe, affordable and year-round recreation spaces is a barrier for far too many children and families,” James Boyle, vice president of programs and communications at the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, said in the news release announcing the grant.
Lack of indoor facilities in the city and access to athletic trainers in high schools were key findings in a 2017 report by the Rochester Area Community Foundation that it published with the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program.
“State of Play: Greater Rochester & The Finger Lakes” looked at ways that communities could eliminate barriers and access to sports and recreational opportunities and help children become more active. Physical activity has been found to increase cognitive function and educational outcomes, improve mental health and reduce health-care costs later in life.
The 25,000-square foot indoor facility will have multipurpose courts, a turf training area, weight room, batting cages, classroom, trainers room and locker rooms.
The sports complex is expected to open in the fall and generate revenue through rental of the stadium and indoor facility, permits, sponsorships and advertising. The staff is expected to be three full-time employees — a director, coordinator, and maintenance technician — and four part-time support staff. Eric Rose, director of community athletics for the city, will serve as the facility’s director and will be in charge of hiring the staff.
This story was updated Jan. 22 to include City Council vote to accept the grant.