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PEPSI CENTER MANAGEMENT CUTS DEFICIT

Amherst's Pepsi Center -- now under new management -- passed its first financial test with a "solid A," officials said Wednesday.

While the town-owned ice complex is still losing money, it's losing a lot less these days, according to outside auditors. The center finished the first quarter of 2005 with a $51,000 deficit, or about the same amount that taxpayers spent last year to operate it for just two weeks.

The real surprise may be who gets credit for the turnaround; instead of having a big-name professional manager, the Pepsi Center is now run by the Amherst Recreation Department.

"Not too shabby, huh?" said Eric Guzdek, the town's new Pepsi Center manager, referring to the quarterly financial report.

"I'll be feeling even better when we break even," he said.

Guzdek had projected a $750,000 deficit at the ice facility in the town's first year of operation, but if the trend holds, the deficit will be considerably less.

Among other reforms, officials set up an enterprise fund to keep track of revenue and expenses, eliminated the job of a professional manager and ended a system where the town paid for two maintenance staffs.

Town Board members, who learned about the financial report this week, also expressed delight with the audit figures.

"I'm glad I didn't let the negativity of some board members and the supervisor stop us," said Council Member Shelly Schratz, a leader in the fight last year to reform the Pepsi Center's financial operations and to install new management.

"Critics said this would not help the town and we didn't need to do it," Schratz recalled.

Leading the critics was Amherst Supervisor Susan J. Grelick, who expressed "serious concerns" about the town's management of the Pepsi Center just two months ago in her State of the Town speech.

Grelick did not return telephone calls seeking her comment Wednesday.

She had strongly supported retaining Sportservice, a subsidiary of Delaware North Cos., which had managed the Pepsi Center since 1997. The company's contract with the town expired Dec. 31, and the Town Board voted, 4-3, to hand the management over to the town's recreation staff.

Council Member William L. Kindel, who filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain town records about the Pepsi Center, often claimed town officials were using two sets of books to manage the facility.

"If you aren't honest about something, you can't correct it," he said. "Once you are honest with the facility, you can make adjustments."

Others who supported the Pepsi Center reforms were Council Members Daniel J. Ward and Jane S. Woodward.

"I would give them an 'A,' " Woodward said of the facility managers, and added, "For the first quarter, taking over a mammoth operation like that, it's a solid A."

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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