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A DONE DEAL

The long struggle to reach a deal with Adelphia Communications to build a communications center on the Buffalo waterfront came to a welcome end this week. It took an inordinately long time to work out the final wrinkles, but the $125 million project now set to open in 2002 or 2003 is a major step forward for the city.

Both the Common Council and the Erie County Legislature must now consider this pact. That action should be thorough but swift, and it must be limited to review. Adelphia properly conducted its negotiations with the executive branches of each level of government, and any effort to insist on the equivalent of a second set of negotiations with legislators would send an extremely harmful message to future investors about development cooperation in Buffalo.

In fact, the damage may already have been done in that regard. How many developers noticed that long negotiations with the state, county and city over the Adelphia deal ended last summer, only to begin again when the Common Council stalled the entire project because it wasn't happy with the details?

We understand that city lawmakers have an obligation to watch over the taxpayers' interests, but the city needs to get its act together so it's speaking with one voice when it's dealing with businesses that want to expand or move here.

This has been a difficult courtship. As late as this week, Adelphia Communications -- potential recipient of $133 million in public incentives from a government desperate for the jobs promised by this project -- said 150 jobs that might have come to Buffalo were created instead in Cleveland and West Palm Beach.

That shot didn't do Adelphia proud. Those 150 call center jobs aren't part of the Buffalo jobs-for-incentives deal, and Adelphia -- already expanding its presence here by adding 300 jobs in temporary space elsewhere on the waterfront -- made a business decision to place them in excess space in its Ohio and Florida offices. Adelphia has proven itself adept at hardball negotiations, and this was a major-league brushback pitch. The message was clear: Give us what we want or we'll go elsewhere.

That said, it was important to Western New Yorkers to get the Adelphia deal done. The extra months of talks possibly have delayed both groundbreaking for the project and the eventual delivery of its economic benefits -- an estimated $1 billion economic impact and an additional $72 million in annual tax revenues.

Adelphia is in a position of power because it promises to deliver several things Buffalo desperately needs -- jobs, a boost for a stagnant economy and a catalyst for waterfront redevelopment.

The framework for this deal has been in place since July. Adelphia estimates it will sink between $50 million and $60 million of its own money into its new center, and promises 2,500 jobs in New York State -- 1,500 of them, including 1,000 newly created ones, in Buffalo. Governments will provide $133 million worth of incentives for both the center and Adelphia's operations at the adjacent HSBC arena -- 12 percent from the city, 14 percent from Erie County and 74 percent from the state.

To finalize the deal, Adelphia agreed to city demands on the hiring levels for minorities and women in both construction and contracting. The city agreed to give up $500,000 in annual arena rent, which it will make up by refinancing an arena bond and collecting property taxes on the new building. In the end, the final differences were small for a project so huge. We urge Council members and legislators to approve it quickly. It's time to get this center built.

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