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With two weeks left to deadline, Bass Pro says it's still interested

With the clock ticking on a 30-day deadline, Bass Pro Shops is reiterating its interest in doing a deal in Buffalo.

"If we weren't interested, we wouldn't wait 30 days to walk away," Bass Pro spokesman Larry Whiteley said Wednesday, a day past the halfway mark of the one-month deadline set by local development officials.

"We're working through this and still hope to do something up there."

Bass Pro's comments are the clearest indication since the 30-day ultimatum that the retailer is seriously negotiating with planners to build a long-promised store in the idle Memorial Auditorium on Buffalo's inner harbor.

Larry Quinn, lead negotiator for Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., declined to characterize the tone of the discussions but confirmed the parties are continuing to exchange phone calls and e-mails.

"I don't want to negotiate this thing in the press, but there's been conversations, and there will be more conversations," Quinn said.

Quinn, vice chairman of the public corporation given the responsibility for revitalizing Buffalo's waterfront, said there aren't likely to be any last-minute trips to Bass Pro's Springfield, Mo., headquarters or eleventh-hour meetings in Buffalo in the next two weeks.

"Face-to-face negotiations aren't going to make a difference at this point," he said. "We're either going to get a deal or we're not."

Quinn, who has led the direct talks with Bass Pro senior executives over the last 16 months, noted the Christmas and New Year's holidays did limit contact over the last two weeks. He hinted that the stated Jan. 16 deadline to get a final decision from Bass Pro might be loosened by a few days to compensate for lost negotiating time.

Anthony H. Gioia, the development corporation's chairman, confirmed the deadline could be extended if there are signs a deal is imminent.

"Nobody's going to be stupid. If we're within a heartbeat of a deal, we're not going to point to the clock and shut the door," Gioia said, adding that any extension would be "days, not weeks, or months."

At the suggestion of Mayor Byron W. Brown, the development corporation voted Dec. 18 to set a 30-day deadline for Bass Pro to commit to opening a giant sporting goods store in idle Memorial Auditorium. At that session, the panel also unveiled a $200 million plan to redevelop the Erie Canal harbor section as a mixed-use area filled with stores, museums and housing.

While the plan envisions Bass Pro as an anchor tenant in the rebirth blueprint, Brown, Quinn and other panel members pledge to move forward with the redevelopment with or without the national retailer. Benderson Development Corp., a national commercial development firm founded in Buffalo, has been chosen to drive the project forward regardless of the outcome of negotiations with Bass Pro.

As currently proposed, $45 million in public funds would be used to gut and remediate the Aud to create a blank slate for Bass Pro. The retailer would spend $20 million to create a 200,000-square-foot store featuring underground parking, and an indoor creek and pond.

If Bass Pro does not proceed with its Buffalo store, the government development funds are expected to be used to demolish the Aud and provide a shovel-ready site to attract other ventures.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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