Jefferson Community College officials have received a feasibility study presenting a $44 million project that will make the college a regional center attracting entertainment, cultural events and sports programs.
The JCC Board of Trustees requested the $40,000 study by Paradigm Economics, Buffalo, to assess the feasibility of how a multipurpose use facility would fit in with its master plan for a Higher Education Center to meet rising enrollment and expanded degree offerings. However, a $12.3 million, 34,000-square-foot center received little attention in the 99-page study that focused extensively on two other facilities at the Coffeen Street campus.
Paradigm also studied the merits of a $25 million events center that would offer more than the traditional college fieldhouse supporting an intercollegiate athletic program. In addition to hosting JCC athletic, cultural and social events, a 5,000-seat facility would be a venue for banquets, trade shows, circuses, noncollege sports, national entertainment and local events, fulfilling to some extent the role of a long-sought convention center.
Paradigm rejected an ice rink that was part of the original study plan as too costly to build and operate, but also because it does not fit in with JCCs athletic offerings. In its place, the firm proposed a less expensive $7 million indoor turf field facility.
The study offers some optimistic revenue projections and economic benefits of the overall plan that will garner support. However, before there is a rush to judgment on a complex undertaking, college officials and a broad spectrum of community leaders need to take an in-depth look at the costs and financial viability of a turf field and events center that will depend heavily on outside, noncampus users to be feasible.
Paradigms positive revenue projections for an events center in three scenarios based on extent of usage make several assumptions about facility management, annual operating expenses and rental rates that have to be more closely examined. Paradigm notes that rental rates for an events center might not be competitive with other existing venues in the area.
In order to operate at a profit, Paradigm assumed some fixed costs such as janitorial services, utilities, insurance and maintenance would be paid for by JCC. The study does not project any operating losses, but it raises the possibility that revenue from the turf field and even lease income from the Higher Education Center could be diverted to offset net income shortfalls from the events center. In other words, JCC revenue that could be used to enhance educational opportunities or hold the line on student tuition might subsidize a community-oriented events center.
Also absent in the study is any discussion of debt service that would be added to JCCs annual budget. Funding for the entire project gets only passing mention in the study with references to state aid and fundraising campaigns and municipal bonding used elsewhere.
As discussions move forward, identifying how the expansive project will be paid for has to be a priority of the talks. Will it be through state aid, higher Jefferson County taxes, local development grants or some other dedicated revenue stream? A venture aimed at meeting a regional need has to be endorsed and financially supported by the entire county willing to take the risks and underwrite the costs of building and operating such facilities.