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What to do with the Aud? Let's hear it

A congressman thought it would be a great spot for an aquarium.

A county executive wanted to demolish it.

A councilman saw it as a children's museum.

A wise guy newspaper columnist suggested that passing fighter planes use it for target practice.

Bass Pro's Johnny Morris was supposedly smitten with it. But not even upward of $35 million in taxpayer handouts lured Morris into a commitment. He still has time to fish or cut bait. But a flirtation unconsummated after two years isn't likely to mesh in two weeks.

Which will leave us back where we started -- with a vacant concrete monolith on the downtown waterfront, and a decade-long question: What to do with Memorial Auditorium?

The former home of the Buffalo Sabres has been useless since the last hockey crowd filed out nearly 11 years ago. Displaced by HSBC Arena, the hulking, asbestos-laden Aud is either an obstacle sitting on prime waterfront space, or an opportunity awaiting a vision. The question: Are we better off with it, or without it?

Got an idea for the city-owned building? E-mail it to the address at the end of the column. I'll get things rolling with a few suggestions, some more serious than others:

1. Giant Petri Dish: Don't laugh. This is what the former hockey palace has become after years of mold, moisture and neglect. Various brands of bacterial spores float through the dank Aud air. Standing pools of water spawn interesting microbes. Asbestos fibers create a toxic stew.

Idea: Declare the place a giant science experiment. Give tours to high school biology classes of safety-masked students. Collect samples from stagnant pools and putrid air for microscopic study in lab class. Remain vigilant for any new life form crawling from the muck.

2. Demolish: The place is full of memories, but the French Connection doesn't live there anymore. Aside from its stoicly muscular main entrance, the bunker-like building is ugly. Leaving it up means finding a reuse big enough to fit into it, which smells like the dreaded "silver bullet." Leaving it up eventually means a super-pricy cleanup and retrofit of a notoriously nonversatile building.

Take it down, and we've got five open acres on the downtown waterfront. It is next to the coming new Naval and Servicemen's Park and the Erie Canal Harbor historic site. It becomes part of the recent, largely funded plan to create a neighborhood at the foot of Main Street.

"I'd advocate knocking it down," said Larry Quinn of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. "It's unwieldy, environmentally problematic and the [mammoth] scale is all wrong. We have more options without it there."

3. Keep Fishing: What works in an asbestos-laden, 1930s windowless WPA building?

Then-Congressman Henry Nowak wanted an aquarium. Jim Pitts, while on the Common Council, pushed for a children's museum. If Bass Pro won't take our money, maybe some other people-drawing business or attraction will. There was talk of turning the front lobby into an Amtrak station. The Niagara Falls Aerospace Museum needs a new home.

If anybody has a good idea for the Aud, let's hear it. With the downtown waterfront awakening from its slumber, the clock is ticking on an unused -- and maybe unusable -- Aud.

"There is enough momentum, with the downtown plan and Erie Canal Harbor, to hopefully pique the interest of a [company] that wants to be part of it," said mayoral spokesman Peter Cutler. "A lot of amazing memories are tied up in that place."

True. But the Aud needs more than memories. If it is going to survive, the place needs a purpose.


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