Center seeks to fill youth-sports vacuum
UTICA — The nearly 170,000-square-foot Nexus Center will open in Utica this fall, bringing a new sports facility and, hopefully, thousands of visitors to the area.
“We have to be open in November because we have tournaments scheduled,” says Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente, Jr.
With three 200-foot by 85-foot playing surfaces for ice or turf, the $65 million Nexus Center already has tournaments booked for almost every weekend from November through next March, the county executive notes.
“There’s not a facility like this nearby,” Picente contends, adding that the closest similar facilities are in Marlborough, Massachusetts, and Toronto, Ontario. There was a real need for a venue to serve the numerous youth-sports teams in the Northeast and along the East Coast, he adds.
As teams travel to the area for tournaments, Picente expects the economic impact to be significant. “With the teams come the parents, and with the parents come other children,” he says.
A typical tournament could bring anywhere from 32 to 64 teams to town for the weekend, Picente notes. Then add in coaches, parents, and siblings. Estimates peg the total number at upwards of 80,000 recurring visitors annually.
“That’s a lot of people,” Picente stresses. “They’re going to need to eat. They’re going to need a hotel room.” He expects occupancy rates at Utica hotels and those in surrounding communities to rise accordingly, while restaurants, especially those near the center in downtown Utica and along North Genesee Street, will benefit from hungry crowds.
Picente predicts the greater Utica area will need more hotels and restaurants, along with activities for the families, as the number of visitors increases. Nearby restaurants and recreation activities planned at the city’s Harbor Point development area will provide some options for visitors.
The Nexus Center could be a gateway to a new type of tourism for Oneida County.
“It opens up this whole new sports tourism market to us,” says Kelly Blazosky, president of Oneida County Tourism.
Attractions such as the Utica Zoo, Fort Stanwix, and more will benefit from the tourism market as the family members of teams look for things to do while teams practice. The area is fortunate, she adds, to have so many activities to offer for visitors.
Initially, the Nexus Center will primarily host hockey tournaments and also serve as home to the Utica University women’s hockey team and the Utica Jr. Comets teams. Picente says the center could add other sports such as soccer and lacrosse once it gets up and running.
Along with three playing surfaces, the ground floor will also house spectator amenities including 1,200 seats and concessions. Talks are underway to house a sports medicine and management program with Utica University on the second floor. Other amenities include locker rooms, commercial office space, training space, and retail space.
“We’re still trying to figure out what else we want to be there,” Picente says, adding that the space could be used for events when it isn’t being used for tournaments.
Mohawk Valley Garden Corp., headed by Robert Esche (who is also president of the Utica Comets), will operate the Nexus Center. Hueber Breuer Construction Co., Inc. of Syracuse is the general contractor for the project.