Gloomy baseball talk is forcing city officials to reconsider automatically spending $2.5 million on Pilot Field blueprints if Buffalo makes major league baseball's short list.
North Council Member David P. Rutecki said Monday that a recent letter from Robert and Mindy Rich in The Buffalo News was "a splash of cold water."
In the letter published Saturday, the Riches ask: "Is baseball expansion economically feasible at this time?" It went on to say the franchise must make financial sense to the Bisons and local governments.
"While we remain committed to bringing major league baseball to Buffalo, we have said that we do not believe in baseball at any cost," the Riches wrote.
"I got a bit depressed to see the long-range goal may not be attainable," Rutecki said Monday. "It's nobody's fault. The major leagues and major league players have priced themselves out of markets like Buffalo."
The city has issued a $2.5 million bond to design an expanded Pilot Field. The plan calls for selling the bond if Buffalo makes a "short list" of six or seven semifinalists for two National League franchises. An announcement is expected soon.
City and Bisons officials have said the bond sale cannot await the final awarding of a franchise. They say the design work must start immediately to have the expanded stadium ready for the 1993 opening season deadline.
Rutecki said he still supports spending the $2.5 million despite the increasing pessimism. His position was shared by City Comptroller Joel A. Giambra and Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk.
But Delaware Council Member Alfred T. Coppola said time has come for the city to scrap the idea of spending millions of dollars in the hope of obtaining a franchise.
"I feel that even if they make the short list, they're not going to really be in the running," Coppola said. "Let's not spend the $2.5 million. It would be just a waste of money."
Rich could not be reached Monday evening for comment.
Ellicott Council Member James W. Pitts also is concerned about the financial problems. Pitts is chairman of a Council task force on sports facilities and has been in lease talks with the Bisons.
Pitts has pulled back from the previous plan to sell the $2.5 million bond should Buffalo make the short list. He now wants the Riches and major league representatives to meet with the city first.
"I think it's very revealing to have the statements by the Riches relative to their situation," he said. "We need a meeting to determine the process that occurs after the short list comes out."
South Council Member Brian M. Higgins said potential financial problems still cannot be determined and decisions on the $2.5 million should wait for two weeks.
"All along, the city has been following the Bisons' lead, and the only information we get about the viability of the proposal is from the Riches and the Bisons," Higgins said.
"If the Bisons are beginning to show uncertainty and apprehension at this point in terms of Buffalo's prospects, I'm sure that will affect the pace with which the city proceeds."