ABC Cayuga’s Play Space moving to new Auburn location

Like one of the young families it serves, ABC Cayuga has outgrown its home.

The nonprofit told The Citizen on Monday that it has purchased the plaza at 98-140 North St. in Auburn, and will make that the new, permanent home of its family activity facility, the Play Space.

ABC Cayuga will move the facility there early next year from the concrete building at 63 Genesee St., where it opened in March 2017. It leases that space from owner KyleCroft Development.

Nancy Tehan, executive director of the Play Space, and Meg O’Connell, chair of its board of directors and executive director of the Allyn Family Foundation, told The Citizen that they’ve hoped they could move the facility to a permanent home since realizing it can work in Auburn. For children 6 and younger and their parents, the Play Space is one part museum, O’Connell said, and one part family resource center. There aren’t many facilities like it, she continued, so ABC Cayuga wasn’t sure it’d be a success. But more than 40,000 visitors later — about 60 a day — she believes it’s been one.

“We always had a dream this was going to work,” O’Connell said. “But it wasn’t until the community embraced it that it could.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has turned the move from a hope into a necessity.

The Play Space has been closed since the pandemic began in America in March. Although it could reopen in September under New York state’s guidance, it doesn’t have the space or ventilation to do so as safely as ABC Cayuga would prefer, Tehan said. She also believes most local families, 225 of which are members of the facility, wouldn’t feel entirely safe coming back.

With the lease at Genesee Street expiring next year, ABC Cayuga took the opportunity to look for that permanent new home. The nonprofit had inquired about the North Street plaza before opening the Play Space, O’Connell said, but the owner, Plaza Group 200 LLC, wasn’t interested in selling or renting it then. The board chair believes the pandemic, which has disrupted the real estate market, made the owner more motivated. According to Cayuga County property records, ABC Cayuga bought the property for $900,000, less than its current assessed value of $929,000.

The plaza, which previously held Blockbuster Video, rent-to-own business Aaron’s and Tanning Bed, is more than 20,000 square feet. That’s about four times the size of the current Play Space, allowing ABC Cayuga to offer families the social distancing they seek. But the facility will only occupy about half that space. It will have a little more than 10,000 square feet in the main portion of the plaza, with another 3,000 square feet for a new tenant, the Cayuga County Women, Infants and Children program. Longtime tenant Child Care Solutions will make the move to North Street with the nonprofit.

O’Connell and Tehan said they’d like to eventually bring more tenants to the new Play Space, making it a “one-stop shop” of resources for families. The nonprofit will also benefit from the rental income, along with income from events like birthday parties and summer camps, and more memberships and admission fees (which will not increase from $8 for a family and $5 for one adult and one child).

“This is a more sustainable way for us to operate,” O’Connell said.

Before anyone moves in, however, ABC Cayuga will spend about $560,000 on capital improvements to the building — including a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system — as well its interior buildout and other expenses. The facility’s steamboat, farmers market and other colorful play areas will make the move, but Roto Design, which fabricated them, will add more to fill out the new space.

One addition will be a new play area for children 6 to 8 years old, as the Play Space is expanding its age focus after seeing many older children come there with their younger siblings.

The nonprofit will also implement ultraviolet cleaning procedures at the new facility and install a playground outside, where parking is more private and accessible than on Genesee Street.

ABC Cayuga is in the middle of an $862,000 capital campaign to raise the money for the facility improvements and the nonprofit’s $300,000 down payment on the plaza. O’Connell and Tehan hope the community considers donating — and helping the Play Space continue its mission of growing young minds through the power of play, but soon on an even bigger, socially distanced scale.

“These are the children of our future,” O’Connell said. “They’re going to be part of our community, so we should all care about each other’s children. This is the future of Auburn.”
Read the full article by David Wilcox here.