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LAWMAKERS WANT TO TWEAK DEAL

Some Erie County legislators say they have concerns about the Adelphia deal for a massive office building on the Buffalo waterfront -- and they want to tinker with the written agreement on the project.

"Obviously we want to see the project proceed," said Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore, who said the "concerns" in the Legislature revolve around the impact the deal will have on the county in the future.

The county is to contribute about $30 million to the project, under the terms outlined in a memorandum of understanding on the project. The Legislature discussed the county's role in the deal at a committee-of-the-whole meeting Tuesday.

"If we amend this (memorandum of understanding), we're not saying we're opposed to the Adelphia project," Swanick said. "But we're always the last ones to get it -- it just gets dropped in our lap."

The Giambra administration strongly warned legislators not to tamper with the existing agreement.

"If you go after some of the core issues . . . then everybody has to get back at the table and everything is opened up again," said Christopher L. Jacobs, deputy commissioner of planning and economic development. "And maybe somebody is having a bad day and all of a sudden isn't agreeing anymore."

"It's not perfect, but on the whole this is a good deal," said Jacobs.

That's not what the three people who spoke at a public forum on the project said Tuesday evening.

James Ostrowski of Buffalo called the deal "absolute economic nonsense" and an example of the kind of "political patronage that has driven this area into the ground."

Saying the city "just can't keep subsidizing millionaire sports teams," Ostrowski said that "corporate welfare . . . corrupts the political process" by putting "the average citizen outside the political process."

North Buffalo resident Craig Speers, while giving some support to the project, also criticized the fact that taxpayer money was being given to a corporation with billions in assets.

He said the state Constitution "prohibits gifts of public funds to private individuals or corporations." Speers said he was concerned that taxpayers could file a lawsuit challenging the deal on that basis.

The other person who spoke, Donald Hobel of North Tonawanda, also pointed to the state constitution's apparent prohibition against taxpayer funds being given to corporations and reminded the four legislators attending the hearing of the oath they took to uphold that constitution.

As it stands, the deal for a $125 million Adelphia construction project on the Buffalo waterfront consists of a written memorandum of understanding among the Pennsylvania-based cable communications company, Erie County and the City of Buffalo.

If approved by the city and the county, the deal will mean at least 1,500 jobs in the new building, about 1,000 of them new hires.

According to city estimates, the public sector is funding the project to the tune of $133 million through a combination of tax incentives and cash. Most of that aid comes from the state.

The county's share, by the end of its commitment to the project, would be close to $30 million, county legislators and Giambra administration officials estimated Tuesday.

Included in that amount would a one-time payment of $7 million for a new parking ramp at the site; a payment of $1 million each year for capital improvements at HSBC Arena; forgoing a ticket surcharge at the arena, which translates to about $200,000 in revenue each year; and forgoing property taxes on the new Adelphia building for 15 years.

That's a lot of money, county legislators said.

And they offered a tentative slate of items they'd like to see included in the deal in return for the county's contribution. The items include:

A written role for Erie Community College, so that Adelphia would provide job-training opportunities for ECC students. Legislator George A. Holt Jr., D-Buffalo, suggested that idea during the committee meeting.

Removal of any mention of the Sabres hockey team from the deal, because the county previously signed a deal that is intended to keep the team in Buffalo for 25 years. Legislator Raymond Dusza, D-Cheektowaga, opposed any mention of the Sabres in the new agreement because "it seems like a threat: 'Take this deal or we'll take away your hockey team.' "

Removal from the agreement of a clause stipulating that any contaminated soil not classified as hazardous waste that is removed from the construction site be disposed of in the Town of Tonawanda. Swanick, the Legislature chairman, whose district includes the Town of Tonawanda, said he strongly opposes this clause and would have problems voting for the deal if it were included in the final document.

Inclusion in the contract of language to indicate how long Adelphia will retain the jobs that are created in Buffalo with the new building. One legislator who supported inclusion of a job-retention guarantee was Legislator Judith P. Fisher, D-Buffalo.

News Staff Reporter John F. Bonfatti contributed to this report.

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