An office building that towers over the Buffalo Inner Harbor and includes retail and entertainment space is the centerpiece of a "sizzling" redevelopment plan that Adelphia Communications and its partners unveiled Wednesday.
"We plan to end up with a building that will be a landmark structure in Western New York," said Timothy J. Rigas, Adelphia executive vice president.
Adelphia's need to hire more than 1,000 employees for its rapid expansion -- the company is expected to soon become the nation's fourth-largest cable operator -- and its investment in the Buffalo Sabres gives this waterfront proposal more credibility than predecessors.
But the plan is far from a done deal. Adelphia's decision is linked to a new lease agreement for the Sabres at the Marine Midland Arena.
The Rigas family, which owns Adelphia and has an agreement to purchase the Sabres, wants to renegotiate the 30-year lease under which the hockey club operates, a lease they say caused a $15 million loss last year despite the Sabres' Stanley Cup run.
They generally desire an agreement similar to what the Buffalo Bills have at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the team gets most of the revenues and the public pays the costs.
The Inner Harbor plan, as presented to the board of Downtown Development Inc., would represent an investment estimated at $160 million to $200 million in a waterfront area that is now either parking lots or occupied by the empty Memorial Auditorium.
"When you look at something of this size and magnitude, all of us have to be excited," Mayor Masiello said.
Construction of a high-rise building ranging from 20 to 30 stories on the Webster Block that would in
clude 456,000-square-feet of office space, a small hotel, apartments, retail space and a practice rink for the Sabres. The Webster block is bounded by the Metro Rail tracks on Main Street, Scott, Washington and Perry streets.
A strip of shops and restaurants, about 192,700 square feet, backed by low-rise apartment buildings with 136 units. This development would be mostly under the Skyway and near new slips being created by a separate, $27.1 million public investment in the Inner Harbor.
Redevelopment of the Aud into a six-level complex that would include retail, restaurants and a possible movie multiplex on the first two floors.
Development of a seven-story building on the parking lot east of the Marine Drive apartments that would include 65 apartments and a 1,158-space parking ramp.
Creation of a multimillion-dollar water attraction that would feature fountains and a water screen onto which images could be projected. Similar attractions are in operation at Sea World facilities around the country.
The redevelopment project would have an annual economic impact of $60 million, according to a study by the Ernst & Young accounting firm. The report was commissioned by the developers: Adelphia, the Cordish Co. of Baltimore and Benderson Development Co. of Buffalo.
"We're all committed to making this a high quality, world-class project," said Joe Weinberg, executive vice president of Cordish. "Our vision is to create a 24-hour area on the Inner Harbor where people can live, work and play.
"We feel it's important we create a lot of sizzle in the Inner Harbor."
Part of that sizzle would be a 200-foot wide, 50-foot tall water wall that is the specialty of a French-American company, Aquatique. Weinberg said the sophisticated apparatus can handle harsh winter conditions.
A video shown to the Downtown Development Inc. board showed spectacular fountains dancing around a water screen onto which huge images were projected. It will be Adelphia, however, that will bring the muscle to the project in the form of new jobs.
Adelphia plans to locate its entire operations center for its Adelphia Business Solutions subsidiary to the waterfront.
There would be 1,000 full-time jobs to start, but Rigas said that number is expected to double.
"The growth is based on the business, which has a high growth curve," he said. "These are jobs that will lead to more jobs as the Internet expands."
One of the conceptual drawings of the proposed Adelphia project shows a monumental building rising more than 25 stories and located a stone's throw from the waterfront.
Its two- to three-story base would cover the entire Webster block immediately south of the old Memorial Auditorium and could include retail shops, ice skating rinks and a combination sports bar and television studio patterned after the ESPN Zone.
Rigas said the jobs will be full-time positions with complete benefit packages, with salaries ranging from $25,000 to $45,000 per year.
Among the job classifications that would be sought are customer support, marketing, sales, back office and technicians.
"The jobs we're bringing in with the type of business we're in are very dynamic," Rigas said.
Although Adelphia had originally considered the block where the Donovan State Office Building is located as the site for its building, Rigas said the speed with which the company wants to proceed with its project dictated the adjacent Webster block.
The Webster block, currently being used as a parking lot, is owned by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency and is essentially ready for construction.
The Donovan Building houses more than 700 state employees, and while officials have said they would be willing to consider moving, it would take a significantly longer time to relocate the workers, demolish the building and prepare the site for new construction.
The ownership and management of the building and which of the partners would build it is still uncertain.
Rigas said the public sector also will be expected to contribute more than the money already allotted to the Inner Harbor. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development already has announced a $9.3 million loan and grant package to help build the project.
The federal government and state also are spending $27.1 million to build public improvements to the Inner Harbor such as new slips, a relocated Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park and a large plaza.
But all this hinges on the re-negotiated lease for the Sabres at the arena.
Adelphia plans to begin face-to-face talks on renegotiating the lease with its government partners -- the state, county and city -- very soon, Rigas said. The lease was signed before the opening of the $127 million arena in October 1996.
"The viability of the anchor tenant, that is the Sabres, is vital to this project as it's being outlined," Rigas said.
Masiello said he will approach the federal, state and county governments for more help in building the project, using its economic impact and the taxes it will generate as a drawing card.
"The public sector has to ante up as they've done in Kansas City, Houston and other cities," he said. "I plan to bring this proposal to our other funding sources and tell them that they have to buy into it."
The development team is expected to return by the end of the year with a detailed financial plan that will outline the public and private costs.
The Adelphia building would be linked by enclosed pedestrian overhead walkways to the Marine Midland Arena, and one concept calls for parking to be partly supplied by the 1,200-space parking garages linked to the arena.
Rigas said the television facilities would be available to national broadcasting companies such as the Fox Network when they are covering the Sabres or other events. With that in mind, he said the building will give an important psychological boost to Buffalo.
"We think it will be an extremely positive reflection on Buffalo," he said. "We want something that is classy and eye-catching."