The Common Council put off action Wednesday on two items aimed at helping bring major league baseball to Buffalo until it meets with Buffalo Bisons officials next month.
As expected, the Council unanimously suspended lease negotiations with the Bisons and delayed approval of a $2.5 million transfer necessary to begin the final design work required to expand Pilot Field.
Council members stressed they are not writing off Buffalo's chances of obtaining an expansion team or stopping their efforts to help the Bisons get a big league team.
But they want reassurances from Bisons President Robert E. Rich Jr. that he and other investors are committed to acquiring a team before the city spends any more tax money on the venture.
"I want to make sure the owners of the Bisons are as committed to this as this Council and the administration," said Majority Leader Eugene Fahey.
The Council is delaying action because of Rich's recent statements questioning whether Buffalo can sustain a major league team because of the $95 million price tag the National League has established for each of the two expansion franchises it will award next year.
In addition, The Buffalo News reported last month that the Rich family, thought by many to be prepared to foot much or most of the estimated $125 million it will take to get a team started, has indicated its cash investment will be only $10 million.
Buffalo is one of six cities being considered for an expansion franchise.
The Council's meeting with the Riches is scheduled for Jan. 11, and some members are saying more than one session might be necessary to provide them the answers they want.
Ellicott Council Member James Pitts said that in addition to finding out how committed Rich and his partners are to obtaining a team, he wants some particulars on how much money Rich and others in his ownership group are prepared to invest.
"This first meeting is going to be extremely important," he said.
Rich is asking the city for favorable terms on a major league lease for Pilot Field and for continued planning for expanding Pilot Field. Because both would involve a considerable expenditure of public money, Council members want to hear directly from Rich about his intentions.
"We're not going to spend the $2.5 million until we've met with the ownership," Fahey said. "They've been sending a lot of mixed signals."
In other action, the Council sent to committee two initiatives aimed at slumlords.
One proposal by Masten Council Member David Collins would require that houses pass a building inspection every time they are sold. A second by South Council Member Brian Higgins and Fillmore Council Member David Franczyk calls for a series of meetings to determine what reforms are necessary to bring negligent landlords into compliance with the building code. The meetings would involve all parties, ranging from city and legal officials to tenant and landlord representatives.
The Council also established a committee to study the feasibility of merging city and county parks into one regional system. The committee, which will include residents and city and county representatives, will begin meeting Jan. 24. Higgins, who will head the committee, said he hopes the panel can issue a report in May.