The operators of the sports dome at the Hyde Park Golf Course owe the city about $35,000 for 10 months in lease payments, according to city officials.
The city controller's office has billed Cataract Sports and Entertainment Group Inc. for payments of $3,508.33 each month since last December, acting City Controller Sandra A. Peploe said Thursday. No payments have been received.
Under Cataract Sports' agreement with the city, the group built the dome for the city and then leased it back, although the city retains ownership of both the dome and the land.
City Administrator Anthony J. Restaino said he heard in May that the payments were behind, and "I did have a discussion with them on the need to make payments. I'll have to check again."
The contract calls for the city to receive $42,100 in annual lease payments for 20 years. The group has the right to exercise two five-year options at its own discretion. A third five-year term would require the mutual agreement of both parties.
The $2.2 million venture was financed by eight local investors, including former Buffalo Sabres Tony McKegney, Danny Gare and Fred Hunt Jr.
The Adelphia Communications Corp. bought the naming rights to the free-standing, two-story, 160-foot by 300-foot dome located adjacent to the Hyde Park Golf Course off Porter Road. The dome now is called the Adelphia Sports Complex. Adelphia founder John J. Rigas is principal owner of the hockey franchise.
Mrs. Peploe said the naming rights were purchased from Cataract Sports and that no money from the naming rights came, or was owed, to the city.
Ronald C. Shiesley, city parks and public works director, who had worked closely with the group in developing the dome, said he wasn't aware the lease payments were behind.
Hunt, who usually acts as spokesman for the group, did not return a phone call seeking his comment.
When the agreement was approved unanimously in February 1998, Councilman John G. Accardo said he was concerned about the financial stability of the group and did not want to see the city end up operating a sports dome as it ended up operating the Niagara Splash water park. Accardo said then that he had been reassured to learn that McKegney and the other principals in the group would put up personal guarantees as collateral for financing, rather than use the dome as collateral, which would have left the city with no recourse if the lease weren't honored. Accardo, who this week defeated Mayor James C. Galie in the Democratic primary for mayor, said Thursday he was disappointed the dome operators have put the city in the position of having to chase down payments. He said the city has to make it clear to developers that such practices will no longer be tolerated.
"I know the City Council acted in good faith because we thought this was a plus for the City of Niagara Falls. It's another situation where the city finds itself almost having to be a collection agency to people who make promises to the city. I know a lot of people enjoy the dome but we just cannot as a city continue to subsidize these ventures anymore. It just can't go on. It's not right," Accardo said.
Councilman Anthony F. Quaranto said he was trying to get in touch with Hunt to see what the problem was.
An avid golfer who spends a good deal of time golfing and keeping track of goings-on at the golf course, Quaranto said he believes business was good until the start of summer when golf domes "become like saunas inside."
"That's why they're trying to get the outside driving range done," he said.
"I'd like to find out what transpired there. Nothing's gone right for them really. I'm not defending them. I'm really not. They got the dome up on time. But, whenever they try to do anything, they get bad weather. They anticipated getting the outside driving range done but they ran into trouble with rain and high winds that lifted the Astroturf. I'd like to talk to them and find out what's going on," with the payment, Quaranto said.