By Mark Boshnack
The sound of soccer balls being kicked may be heard again on the fields of what had been an Oneonta landmark by summer, officials said at a Thursday media conference.
The National Soccer Hall of Fame's plans to leave Oneonta and transition the 62-acre complex were discussed at the facility.
The Soccer Hall closed to the public after Labor Day while its board of directors searched for a new business model as it tried to deal with a long-term financial deficit. Several tournaments scheduled at the time were completed.
On Wednesday, the Hall announced its plan to transfer the property off of state Route 205 to a local economic-development group and change the ways it presents its programs.
The National Soccer Hall of Fame signed a management contract Feb. 1 with the Otsego County Development Corp., a private nonprofit development group also involved with the development of the former Bresee's complex.
If the necessary state agencies approve the agreement, the Soccer Hall facilities could be transferred to OCDC in about 60 days, said OCDC President Douglas Gulotty.
Meanwhile, OCDC is contacting schools that played on the fields last summer to encourage continued use of the Wright National Soccer Campus, Gulotty said. People were in contact with local schools for the fall, which Gulotty said was an encouraging sign.
The maintenance and operations of the facility run about $150,000 to $180,000, he said. A "significant" part of that has been already raised by OCDC, he said. User fees will also be important in meeting that goal, he said. About $500,000 to $750,000 will be needed to carry out the plans, he said.
The National Soccer Hall of Fame will be paying half of the utilities while it remains at the site, he said, but he did not have the information about how much that was.
The Soccer Hall is scheduled to be at the site for one year after the state approves the plan. It will use a quarter of the 40,000 square feet as it works on shipping archives and artifacts to other locations, he said.
The agency has made a five-year commitment to use the fields for soccer, but Gulotty said if things go as planned, that could go on for decades.
With the state investing about $4.5 million into the facility over the years, every effort will be made to encourage the use of the building by nonprofits, he said.
"The community should be patient with the process," he said. "Economic development is the engine that will drives this transformation."
Soccer Hall President Jonathan Ullman said that preparations were being made for the Soccer Hall to start moving out its items in the coming weeks. He is the only remaining employee from the staff of eight before the closing.
"The organization is not dissolving," he said. Instead, it will be a "virtual" Hall of Fame, with more of a Web presence. Plans include distributing permanent displays for exhibition in several locations nationwide. These locations have yet to be determined.
Other items will be preserved in storage facilities provided by a longtime North Carolina corporate sponsor, Eurosport.
The annual election process to the National Soccer Hall of Fame will continue without interruption, and the location of induction ceremonies will be planned based on several factors, including the fan base of the respective inductees.
National Soccer Hall board chairman Doug Willies, who pledged $10,000 to the OCDC fundraising effort, said he did not want to dwell on why the Soccer Hall was not successful. When asked later, he said things could have been done differently, but that was true of any organization.
"It's time to recognize it hasn't worked," he said during the media conference.
Over the years, the board has taken on more national representation, he said. This has helped secure larger financial contributions, including a five-year commitment totaling $1 million from the U.S. Soccer Federation in 2005.
But with attendance to the Soccer Hall museum at about 20,000 a year, Willies said the board decided about 11/2 years ago that the Soccer Hall had to change the way it operated, he said.
In recognition of the local support, the board decided to donate the complex back to the community, he said. Because of the national contributions, it is debt-free and has been appraised at $3.5 million to $4.5 million, he said.
State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, attended the meeting along with Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson _ both supporters of the Soccer Hall.
"While this is not the outcome we hoped or planned for, I firmly believe that transferring ownership of the museum complex into local hands will pave the way for a bright and productive future," Seward said.
If successful, the plans will "pay dividends" for local businesses and residents, he said.
"I stand ready to partner with OCDC and other community leaders in carrying out the transition," he said.