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Plans taking shape for proposed multi-purpose facility

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The Watertown Trust will be asked this morning to contribute funding for a $40,000 feasibility study for a 7,000-seat, multi-purpose facility proposed for the campus of Jefferson Community College on Coffeen Street.

The proposal has been developed by Daniel J. Villa, chairman of the JCC board of trustees, who is now seeking funding from local sources for the study. The study would be completed by consulting firm Paradigm Economics of Buffalo.

“Right now I’m asking for their support of this study and hoping that, with all of the players involved, their interest in the facility will garner enough funding to start the study this summer,” he said. “The study will determine whether the facility will be viable based on the community’s needs” and whether it can generate enough revenue to pay for itself.

To seek financial support for the project, Mr. Villa has already contacted the Jefferson Community College Foundation, the Northern New York Community Foundation and Jefferson County’s Board of Legislators.

The feasibility study for the multi-purpose facility — to be located where the Whispering Pines Adult Home, 1240 Coffeen St., now sits — would take about three months to complete, said Mr. Villa, who began developing the plan with local leaders this fall. The nursing home at the site is expected to close next year when Samaritan Village senior-care complex opens; the building would be demolished to make room for the facility.

While detailed plans haven’t been developed, Mr. Villa said the proposed facility would be large enough to accommodate crowds of up to 7,000 people. Tentative plans for the facility include a full-size ice rink that can be converted to a basketball court, a conference room for dinners and special events with seating for more than 500 people and 35,000 square feet of classrooms to be used for programs at Jefferson Community College.

Mr. Villa said the notion of building a facility has been bandied about by officials numerous times over the years but plans never materialized.

While Watertown has facilities to host events — including the Watertown Municipal Arena and the Dulles State Office Building — they don’t have enough space to host large-scale events, Mr. Villa said.

“Our community here is growing, and many people are traveling to neighboring communities with these type of facilities because of what they have to offer,” he said. “We don’t have anywhere here to seat an audience larger than 1,500 people for any type of production, and there’s nowhere to host a dinner with 500 people.”

The facility would also fall in line with Jefferson Community College’s plan to expand its academic programs by providing classroom space, said Mr. Villa.

The college’s master plan already calls for the construction of a 35,000-square-foot “higher education” building to be used to expand its partnership programs with colleges to offer bachelor and master’s degrees, Mr. Villa said, and the building would be designed to meet that need.

“It would become a high-functioning facility on campus that would meet the community’s needs for entertainment and at the same time meet needs for academic space,” he said. From the college’s perspective, “I see it as a huge factor for maintaining its (recent) growth and continuing to move forward with its academic offering. Students who want to continue their education here can get (higher-level) degrees without leaving town, which will be a huge benefit for the community.”

Jefferson Community College President Carole A. McCoy said the 8,000-square-foot Jefferson Higher Education Center on campus, which provides a range of four-year programs for students by collaborating with universities, has run out of space to offer more classes. The college planned its “higher-education” center in 2009 with the goal of completing the project by 2014, but funding for the project hasn’t been available.

The college has adamantly supported the plan for the facility, which would allow it to expand its health and science programs, Mrs. McCoy said.

“We’d want to have specialized science and nursing labs at the facility,” she said. “The intent would be to provide space for the schools that partner with us on campus.”

By partnering with other local sources to fund the proposed facility, the project could be significantly more affordable for the college. The college has agreed to provide $5,000 for the feasibility study.

“This is a tremendous opportunity in terms of providing the teaching space we desperately need, having space for our student athletes and putting on larger programs in the community,” Mrs. McCoy said. “It’s something where the sum will be greater than the parts, and if we’re creative about working together, I think we can make this a reality.”

But coming up with enough funding for the project could be a challenge.

Paradigm Economics was hired by the town of Watertown in 2008 to complete a feasibility study for a similar 5,500-seat regional exposition center located off Interstate 81. But the study ultimately concluded that the plan for the $12.6 million center wasn’t financially sound: The maximum revenue generated by rental fees, trade shows and concerts, and other functions could reach $550,000, leaving the town with a $250,000 deficit in its operating budget. That, combined with interest payments of $575,000 required the first year, made the project too costly for the town to afford.

Mr. Villa, who has served as a volunteer for several nonprofit organizations over the years, said the project was inspired by his desire to give back to the community.

“I truly believe we live in a great community, and my whole focus with this is to make it even better as an added piece,” he said. “I’m doing this as a citizen in the community because I feel there’s a need for it. And if the study says there is, then it will be up to the community to decide.”

After the feasibility study, a group would likely be formed to seek funding for the project, Mr. Villa said.

“The project would probably be three or four years from beginning to potential end,” he said. “It could be completed by late 2015 or early 2016.”

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