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The unveiling of a major new development proposal for Buffalo's Inner Harbor signals the start of detailed discussions that could shape the city waterfront well into the next century. There's a lot to like in the plans -- but there also are major unanswered questions.

That's no surprise. A deal of the magnitude proposed by Adelphia -- a $160 million to $200 million package including a new skyscraper, blocks of retail and entertainment venues and the reuse of Memorial Auditorium -- will need a lot of work before artists' renderings become builders' blueprints.

What is clear is this: The prospect of 1,000 Adelphia Communications jobs in downtown Buffalo, multiplied by thousands more in construction and the shops and attractions that would eventually fill this mega-complex, deserves immediate and intense attention from city, county and state leaders. There must be a concerted effort to make this project happen, within the bounds of government resources and this community's vision for its future.

The package presented by Adelphia, as part of its partnership with Cordish Co. and Benderson Development Corp., is welcome. But at this early stage, it's impossible to judge completely. As one would expect, there are still some major unaddressed questions, such as:

How linked is this development package to renegotiation of the Buffalo Sabres' Marine Midland Arena lease, an issue with potentially major consequences for taxpayers? Adelphia, which has yet to complete its purchase of the financially troubled hockey team, undoubtedly sees leverage in the jobs it wants to create here, but the issues should be delineated separately.

How many public dollars will this economic-redevelopment project take?

Which is the higher local immediate priority, a convention center or this waterfront complex? Gov. Pataki's visit today to break ground for the adjoining Inner Harbor project opens the door to the fast-track development Adelphia wants. But it may be difficult to ask him to put both the convention center and the waterfront complex into next year's state budget.

Will the final designs fit the city's vision for downtown and the Inner Harbor, or simply become another developer-led reshaping of an urban district? Does a Webster Block skyscraper mesh with Inner Harbor design guidelines, and does it meet the basic requirements of good planning? While planners say the potential Aud reuse fulfills a city dream, will high-rise development blend into the historic waterfront, or will parking ramps destroy the archaeological remnants of once-storied Canal Street?

Buffalo has vital interests at stake: The future of the waterfront, the future of the Sabres, the future of economic redevelopment at the city's very core.

But projects of this potential don't appear very often, and many of the national-level retail and entertainment tenants expressing interest want to be in business here within two years. After years of blue-sky planning, it's good to have a real and immediate proposal on the table. It deserves extensive evaluation and action.

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