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FALLS SEEKS CLARIFICATION OF SPLASH PARK DEAL CITY, DEVELOPMENT AGENCY SCRUTINIZE FINANCIAL IMPACT OF PENDING SALE

Niagara Falls city officials Thursday called for more "exact details" on the financial impact of the pending sale of the Niagara Splash water park to a non-profit Washington, D.C.-based organization.

However, both city and county Industrial Development Agency officials declined comment after a 30-minute closed session of the IDA attended by Falls Mayor Michael C. O'Laughlin and four other city officials.

The IDA agreed agreed Dec. 4 to become the vehicle to issue up to $20 million in tax-exempt bonds that would permit the National Organization for Youth Recognition, an Initiate of the Chiefs of Police National Drug Task Force Inc., to buy the theme park.

The transaction was approved later that day by the County Legislature in a 14-5 vote.

The planned sale was hailed at the time by O'Laughlin as way to settle about $15.7 million in debts owed the city, the IDA and the Niagara Falls School Board by Niagara Venture in connection with other projects, including the still unopened Falls Street Faire and Falls Street Station.

The mayor called for more information on "some aspects" of the financial arrangements. "On behalf of the city, school district and county taxpayers, we would ask for more specifics on the PILOTS (payments-in-lieu-of-taxes)," the mayor said.

He declined to specify what additional information the city is seeking.

However, John C. Drake, the development agency's assistant director, said "some of the amounts you know. Others are still being compiled."

The principals of Niagara Venture are John P. Bartolomei, a Niagara Falls lawyer and Edward U. Bevilacqua of San Diego, Calif.

The Niagara Splash sale is contingent on the full payment of $1.7 million owed the city and school district under in-lieu-of tax programs arranged by the agency, $9.7 million owed the city for federal loans, $4.2 million used for developing the Falls Street Faire and Falls Street Station, and $100,000 the development agency claims it is owed in connection with hiring Mesch Engineering of Lockport to do building code inspections at those two projects.

Michael M. Babat, a Buffalo lawyer, Thursday said he would file an Article 78 action in State Supreme Court unless the IDA could assure him that Mesch was qualified to carry out the inspections at the Falls Street Faire and Falls Street Station.

Article 78 is a section of the state Civil Practices law that requires a municipality and public officials to "do something they are required by law to do" or "to prevent them from doing something they do not have authority to do," Babat said.

Babat said he represented a "city resident and taxpayer" who, he said, would bring suit against the county and city. He declined to identify his client but emphasized he didn't represent "any member of a union."

The IDA also:

Approved a $50,000 loan to Equitron Inc. of the Town of Niagara for machinery purchases.

Gave final approval for a $1.7 million bond issue sought by the Cerebral Palsy Association of Niagara County, which is constructing a new facility in Wheatfield.

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