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Brown seeks state funds to raze Aud Mayor asks Spitzer to redirect money intended for Bass Pro renovations

Mayor Byron W. Brown is requesting state money to tear down the mothballed Memorial Auditorium.

Brown's letter asks Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer to allow the city to spend $21 million in state funds to raze the idle sports arena. The money had been earmarked for renovating the Aud to accommodate Bass Pro Shops.

"We own the building, and if Bass Pro doesn't want to reuse it, we want to take it down as soon as possible," said Peter Cutler, Brown administration spokesman.

In recent days, talks on a Bass Pro store have shifted to a vacant parcel of land near the Aud along the Buffalo River.

"I think we can draw the conclusion that if Bass Pro isn't going in there, nobody is going in there," Cutler added. "We need to keep waterfront development moving forward, and the Aud is standing in the way."

For the past decade, numerous uses have been suggested for the Aud, with Bass Pro giving it the most serious consideration. Last month, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. estimated that gutting, cleaning and preparing the massive building for a new user would cost $45 million. The Brown administration pegs the cost of demolition and remedial work at $19 million.

If the state funds are made available soon, the Aud might be gone by early next year, the mayor's spokesman.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, also backs quick action to remove the Aud from the city's inner harbor.

"By dedicating public money to the demolition and redevelopment of the Aud site, by investing in ourselves, we can realize far greater and long-lasting results," Higgins said.

Later Tuesday, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, issued a news release adding his voice to the call for demolition.

"Enough is enough, he said. "This project has been held up for far too long."

Tuesday also was the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.'s deadline for Bass Pro talks. Recent progress in the discussions and continuing power problems at Bass Pro's Springfield, Mo., headquarters following a weekend ice storm were cited as reasons to let the "drop dead" date slide.

Larry Quinn, lead negotiator and vice chairman of the development panel, said that, despite the storm-caused interruptions, a deal was closer than ever.

"The deadline is a non-issue. We're continuing to do serious work on this. We're not going to stop because of the calendar," Quinn said.

Brown, meanwhile, said he was keeping his eyes on a midnight Thursday deadline. At that point, his economic development staff would begin aggressively courting other potential retail tenants for various inner harbor sites.

Ironically, any debate over deadline extensions appears to be moot. Charles Rosenow, the harbor development panel's executive director, confirmed Tuesday that the board never took a formal vote Dec. 16 on the 30-day deadline.

"It was more of a recommendation and consensus situation," Rosenow said, explaining that the board can act only on agenda items, which did not include the ultimatum.

While Brown appeared to have made the motion that caused board members to agree on a time limit, he is a nonvoting member of the board and, therefore, ineligible to take part in any official board action.

Everyone at the table, however, appeared to agree on the spirit of the deadline.

"I don't think it matters whether it was a formal vote or not," Rosenow said.

Steve Matlin, the Empire State Development Corp. attorney who serves as legal counsel to local development board, also downplayed the importance of an enforceable deadline.

"I'm totally confident that the mayor and board are on the same page about the goal of any negotiations. If talks are fruitful and continuing, a specific date won't matter at the end of the day," Matlin said.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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