Gabe Campana painted a beautiful picture Tuesday afternoon.
Standing in front of a throng of people outside the entrance to Bowman Field, the mayor of the city, painted a picture of beautifully blooming roses and sunshine-drenched days. Bathing in the light and heat of a sweltering late-July afternoon, the hockey-hungry leader of the city ignored the potential pitfalls of bringing in a minor league hockey team to play 30 outdoor games inside Bowman Field.
Snow be damned. Slush be damned. Cold weather? Not a problem.
Campana and Chris Firriolo, President and head coach of the Williamsport Outlaws acknowledged there were a myriad of problems that could complicate having a professional hockey team in Williamsport during a press conference at Bowman Field yesterday. But those problems, range from a lack of parking, to weather-related ice issues to what kind of involvement the Williamsport Crosscutters, the year-round inhabitants of Bowman Field, would have.
It was a press conference born of all the positives having hockey in Williamsport could infuse to the area. The negatives? The potential pitfalls? Those were swept under a rug to be dealt with only when they had to be.
How could you spoil as monumental a day as Tuesday was with all of its good news by harping on the negatives? It was a press conference attended by a handful of print and television media outlets, filled in with city workers who were required to attend and children from summer camps who were as attentive to the announcement as they are for a documentary on the dung beetle.
The whole project seems rushed in order to bring another professional sport to Williamsport. There have been minimal discussions between the Outlaws and the Crosscutters about how one will help the other. It's worth noting the Crosscutters hold the liquor license for Bowman Field, and any concessions that involve the sale of malt liquor would have to be run by the Crosscutters.
A document was filed on behalf of the Crosscutters on Tuesday proposing revisions to the operation and maintenance agreement said the Crosscutters, who only received a copy of the agreement through a Right to Know Request on Monday. One of the proposed revisions pointed out that neither the Syracuse Junior Hockey Club - which will be in charge of the upkeep of the ice rink - nor the Williamsport Outlaws are "registered to do business with the Pennsylvania Department of State" at the time the agreement between the city and the Outlaws was drafted.
It screams of a process that has been hastily put together.
"Williamsport has all the ingredients to be a successful area for minor league hockey," Firriolo said. "We believe it is a two-sport time."
Firriolo said the Outlaws, who are responsible financially according to the proposed agreement for all of the costs incurred by putting an ice rink on the infield of Bowman Field, will spend between $200,000 and $225,000 to build and maintain the ice rink as well as pay the personnel involved with running the team.
In order for the project to be worthwhile financially to the Outlaws, they would need to average 2,000 fans per game. The Crosscutters are averaging 1,800 fans per game this year at Bowman Field, and that's been in warm, comfortable weather and includes nights with attendance numbers of 2,600 and 3,100 where admission to the game was free.
That number may be feasible as the team and the appeal of an outdoor rink is still a novelty in the first few weeks of the season. But who is going to want to sit on metal bleachers when the temperatures start dipping into the 40s and 30s for games starting at 7 p.m. or later?
The rink will be up from late October until the Outlaws' home season ends on Jan. 21.
"You'll find people are willing to drive two to three hours to watch a hockey game," mayor Campana said. "It's going to be a novelty early on. Once we get into January it can hurt us (to have an outdoor rink). But we're confident we have the demographic here."
Campana said all the right things during the press conference, emphasizing that no city money will be used in order to pay for the rink or the upkeep of Bowman Field. In fact, the Outlaws will pay the city $15,000 for the rental of Bowman Field.
Outlaws games will encompass only about 15 percent of the activities that will take place on the rink. Open public skating will take place during the weekends. The opportunity is there for local colleges and high schools to rent the surface to play games, you know, since there's an influx of local collegiate and high school hockey teams.
But then there's the matter of what happens when the rink is dismantled and the Outlaws' season is over. What kind of damage will be done to the infield and shallow right field of the baseball diamond?
After the Philadelphia Phillies hosted the Winter Classic - the annual outdoor game sponsored by the NHL - in Citizens Bank Park in January, a source said the Phillies paid more than $150,000 to replace the sod of the Phillies' home stadium.
And that was for an ice rink that was up for a matter of weeks, not time span of three months like is planned at Bowman Field.
"There's a big difference, no offense to Bowman Field, between where (the Phillies) play and here," Firriolo said. "They have a lot more space. The space they killed was probably double what we will. And all we're likely to do is kill the grass."
Firriolo estimates it will cost the Outlaws between $12,000-$15,000 to replace the sod that will be killed by having the ice rink on Bowman Field.
But what if
What if there's more damage than just the killing of sod? What if the rink leaves ruts in the field? How much will it cost to replace or repair the pitcher's mound in the middle of Bowman Field?
The Crosscutters, and every major league and minor league team, are held to a standard for their playing surface that must be met. The Crosscutters, in their proposed revisions to the agreements between the city and the Outlaws, are asking for a "bond of other financial surety in an amount sufficient to cover the worst-case costs to repair the field be made a requirement of the Agreement to protect the facility and avoid any potential costs to repair the field to the taxpayers of Williamsport."
In all the talk of the new ice rink, the new hockey team, the potential entertainment endeavors, the Cutters' request for revisions of the agreement was the first time Tuesday anybody spoke of a worst-case scenario. And it's something that needs to be discussed more.
Throughout their press conference Tuesday, Campana and Firriolo seemed to have made plans, both financially and operationally for best-case scenarios. But how often do things work out the best way you had planned?
"I think," Federal Hockey League commissioner Don Kirnan said, "it's going to be the best thing we ever did."
In the meantime, hold your breath that everything works out just as Campana and Firriolo have planned in their hurried state."
Mitch Rupert is a Sun-Gazette sports writer. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.