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Senecas seek permission for walkway

The Seneca Nation of Indians wants city permission to build a pedestrian bridge between its proposed downtown casino and a parking structure.

City lawmakers say the request won't be granted until Seneca leaders make clear what the nation has planned for downtown Buffalo.

Early talks between the nation and city officials about the need for improvements to sidewalks, curbs and water lines also could face rough sailing.

For quite some time, Common Council members have raised questions about how much land the Seneca Nation intends to buy, and whether the nation plans to open other businesses near the casino, such as hotels, tax-free tobacco shops or gas stations.

The Senecas' request will stay in the Community Development Committee until the city gets concrete answers, North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. said at a meeting last week. Golombek, the committee's chairman,added that he's not afraid of being labeled "obstructionist."

"If obstructionism means that we're looking out for the taxpayers' interests in the city of Buffalo, I would be more than happy to be called an obstructionist every single time," he said. He added that the Council has asked Seneca leaders to address his committee, but that nation officials have yet to attend a meeting.

In response to an inquiry from The Buffalo News, Seneca Nation President Barry E. Snyder Sr. issued a written statement indicating it's premature to discuss specific plans. He said Seneca Gaming Corp. is interviewing architects. "There are no finalized plans for the Buffalo Creek Casino to disclose at this time because it is so early in the process," he wrote.

Snyder's statement did not address Council concerns about whether other Seneca businesses might open near the site, or questions about how much land the nation intends to acquire.

Mayor Byron W. Brown, who supports the casino, said the Council has a right to seek answers from the Senecas.

Council President David A. Franczyk, whose Fillmore District includes the casino site, said city officials and Seneca leaders should stage a "summit" to discuss the issues. He also wants the Council to meet with an expert on Indian affairs.

"We have to know what our rights are," he said.

The city has no authority over Seneca land, which is sovereign Indian territory and exempt from property taxes. But the city still holds some cards, because the Seneca Nation needs Buffalo's approval for any encroachments on public land, such as the overhead walkway planned on Fulton Street.

The bridge would be an important link between the casino and a parking facility. The Seneca Nation also needs city approval for a planned sidewalk canopy.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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