BEFORE the disjointed rush for money for Buffalo-area sports facilities gets out of hand, local public officials would do well to form some sort of planning commission, as State Sen. John B. Sheffer II, R-Amherst, has proposed.
The region needs to speak with one voice when it tries to convince state and federal agencies to help finance professional and amateur sports facilities. It also needs to sort out its priorities and determine the proper financing roles for Erie County and City Hall.
As it stands, proposals, requests and demands are piling up. The Buffalo area is in danger of sounding like a capricious 10-year-old compiling a list for Santa Claus.
Sheffer suggests an "informal planning group" to work on financing plans, set priorities, attempt to make the most of resources, seek innovations and try to avoid overlap.
Sheffer, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Tourism, Recreation and Sports Development, is willing to call governmental officials and professional and college sports representatives together for an organizational meeting.
He should do so quickly, and those invited should show up with open minds, ready to deal with the region's sports requirements as a whole and in the long range. The eventual committee might well include a fan and a taxpayer representative or two.
The Buffalo Sabres' assertion last week that they need a new building to stay in Buffalo is just the latest entry in the sweepstakes. Cost estimates for a replacement for city-owned Memorial Auditorium range
from $65 million to $90 million. Such a capital expense is clearly beyond the means of the Buffalo city government, but the Sabres made no financing suggestions.
Another entry is the 1993 World University Games, and the area definitely has to coordinate this one-time event with its long-range sports plans. It would be foolish to build anything for the games without plans for optimum use of it afterward.
The games now have a $35 million capital budget, most of it aimed at enlarging the University of Buffalo stadium to as many as 35,000 seats so it can serve as the track and field site and, afterwards, as the home of a more ambitious UB football program.
Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson is insisting county-owned Rich Stadium has deteriorated and saying his team will not play there after its lease expires in 1998. Pilot Field must be expanded if efforts to get a major league baseball franchise succeed. There are plans for a large amateur athletic complex at the old War Memorial Stadium site.
Sports play an important role in the Buffalo-area way of life. They unify the region as no other activity seems able to do. The pro teams provide economic benefits because of the favorable national image and publicity they generate. Amateur facilities help local residents enjoy competition, develop athletic skills and stay in shape.
The dangers of a haphazard approach are that too little will happen, that what does happen will be wasteful and duplicative, and that innovation will take a back seat. A planning committee can help prevent all of that.