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TCI of New York, Buffalo's cable television franchise, is slamming the phone down on its seven-month-old waterfront telemarketing center, resulting in the layoff of some 178 full- and part-time workers.

TCI Telemarketing of New York, which opened at 60 Waterfront Boulevard in March, will close Dec. 15. The abrupt end to the local operation is characterized as a permanent closure of the entire office.

And while some of the affected employees may be offered new positions with the cable television company or its subsidiaries, none of the workers has "bumping rights."

TCI General Manager Paul Meegan was not available to comment on the reasons behind the decision to shut down the fledgling operation.

It was just eight months ago that Meegan announced Buffalo had been chosen by TCI Inc. as the site for its Northeastern U.S. cable service sales office. The TCI executive said Buffalo had been selected because of its "cost-effective" economy and "tremendous labor pool."

Meegan speculated that as many as 270 staffers would be hired for positions at the lakefront operation. He pegged its annual contribution to the local economy at some $3 million, with workers earning between $9 and $12 per hour.

An additional $280,000 was to be spent on physical improvements to the site.

"TCI . . . sincerely hopes other business will see the importance of bringing business back to the city," Meegan said when announcing creation of the center.

Those words have a very hollow ring now to Buffalo Common Council President James Pitts, who had joined Meegan at that Feb. 22 news conference.

"It's a damn shame that with all the ballyhoo they gave the thing that they are turning around and closing it down. It really makes you wonder what kind of commitment they have to this city," Pitts said.

The Common Council president said he learned about the planned shutdown late Tuesday.

"I don't know the specifics, but I'm guessing it will get blamed on a decision made in a corporate office outside of Buffalo. But I plan to bring them before the Council to do some explaining," Pitts added.

In its latest earnings report in mid-August, TCI, the country's largest cable operator, said its second-quarter loss widened because of higher costs to refinance debt and losses from investments in other cable companies.

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