More than $33 million in im provements to Memorial Audito rium, everything from air condi tioning and luxury sky boxes to a new four-sided video scoreboard, were unveiled today by a private consultant. The recommendations were de scribed by city officials as neces sary to keep professional hockey in Buffalo.
The Buffalo Sabres are nearing the end of a 20-year-lease with the city-owned Aud. "There are a lot of hungry cities out there," said Charles Rosenow, president of the Buffalo Develop ment Companies. "No matter what the Sabres say, they're going to be courted." Other city officials, however, expressed reservations at some of the improvements outlined by Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, the Kansas City-based consultant hired by the city. "HOK, like any consultant, will recommend the top of the line, the Rolls-Royce," said Common Council President George K. Ar thur. "It's our job to bring it down to reality." Arthur supports some of the consultant's recommendations, in cluding the installation of air con ditioning at the 49-year old Aud, a $3 million expense. Without it, the ice will continue to fog during warm weather. HOK's recommendations in clude: Exterior improvements, in cluding a new roof and a rooftop message board with neon lighting. Four new food courts on the east and west sides on the arena and lower promenade levels, an expansion of the northeast terrace dining area into a 600-seat restau rant and new concessions on the arena level. The addition of 30 suites in the balcony sections and the re placement of wood seats with up holstered seats. The expansion would mean seating for 16,000 people during hockey games. Replacement of the existing scoreboard with a four-sided video replay scoreboard. The addition of sprinkler and emergency smoke exhaust sys tems and replacement of substan dard wiring and mechanical sys tems. An expansion of the Sabres' locker rooms and offices, a reloca tion and expansion of the basket ball locker rooms, and new rest rooms on the lower and upper promenades. The consultant also recom mended the construction of a new 600-car parking ramp between Main and Washington streets. The ramp would be in addition to the ramp planned near Pilot Field. The $33 million price tag does not include the cost of a new ramp. Missing from the report was the Sabre's recommendation for a larger ice rink. The current rink is small by National Hockey League standards. Rosenow said the con sultant is still studying the request. Mayor Griffin described the recommendations as a step toward See Aud Page A-5, Column 1 Aud Continued from Page 1 guaranteeing the continued viabil ity of the Aud, but he fell short of endorsing all the recommenda tions. Rosenow said the mayor wants to review the report before making any suggestions on changes. Seymour H. Knox III, chair man of the Sabres, would not comment on the recommenda tions, except to say that some up grading of the Aud is "absolutely crucial" to the Sabres' staying at the Aud. "It has become apparent that our home does not measure up," said Knox. "The Sabres and the city must remain competitive." During an interview before the presentation, Knox said the Sa bres' preference is to stay in Buffa lo. He said the club has not looked at alternative sites and has no timetable for doing so. Arthur, meanwhile, said the Council will review the report with an eye toward paring down the cost. He mentioned the new luxury sky boxes as one item that might be deleted by the Council. "They are not a top priority with me," said Arthur. "The ques tion is what the city can afford." Delaware Council Member Al fred Coppola went even further and suggested the city approach the Sabres about buying the build ing and funding the improvements themselves. "As the owner, they would be responsible for what they do at the Aud," said Coppola. "It would also put the building on the tax rolls." With the report complete, Ar thur is planning to appoint a task force to study the Aud renova tions. The task force was autho rized by the Council earlier this year. Among the issues the group will consider is financing for the im provements. In the past, the city has said it would seek assistance from the state and pointed out that the state is funding similar projects in other cities. The state is aware of the Aud project, and officials have said the state Urban Development Corp. would await a feasibility study be fore making a decision on state aid. A UDC spokesman said it was not uncommon for the state to get involved in stadium renovation projects. He cited the UDC's in volvement in the construction of a new parking ramp at Yankee Sta dium in New York City. Rosenow said the city will look at several funding sources, private and public. He also indicated the project could be done in phases as funding becomes available. Rosenow said the city would never consider borrowing the full $33 million to finance the renova tions. He also noted that current Aud operations are not subsidized by the city and that the debt on past improvements has been financed almost entirely by revenue gener ated by the facility.