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The Common Council approved a five-year interim lease Tuesday that guarantees the Buffalo Sabres will play at Memorial Auditorium through at least 1992 and establishes Aug. 31, 1994, as the deadline for completing a new arena.

Ellicott Council Member James W. Pitts said the approval ends more than a year of negotiations and sets the stage for the next round of talks. Pitts is chairman of the Auditorium and Stadium Task Force.

"This sets a schedule for determining whether a new arena can be built," Pitts said. "It lays the basis for each side to determine how they participate in building a new arena."

The next big question for the city, Pitts said, is how much money the Sabres will contribute to an arena project. The hockey team wants a facility that will seat 20,000 people, and the price tag is expected to be close to $100 million.

"Within the next couple of months I expect to know how much the Sabres will contribute," Pitts said. Robert W. Pickel, Sabres senior vice president, said he was pleased the Council approved the lease. But he said the subject of dividing the cost should wait until after a site and design are chosen.

The Sabre official did repeat a previous pledge that the hockey team will contribute to a new stadium.

"We have said we would help," Pickel said.

The Council voted 11-1 to approve the contract. Majority Leader Eugene M. Fahey was absent. Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk opposed the deal, saying he is concerned the Sabres have not stated how much they'll contribute to a new arena.

"I have to look out for my constituents, many of whom can't even afford tickets to the hockey games," he said. "For that $95 million, you could put an indoor ice rink in every Council district."

Three other Council members had planned to vote against the lease, but lobbying by Pitts helped sway their votes. Council Member at Large Clifford Bell, University Council Member Archie L. Amos Jr. and Masten Council Member David A. Collins said during a Monday Council caucus that they opposed the plan.

antees play in Aud through 1992
"I pointed out to them provisions in the lease that protected the city and showed them the schedule that would have to take place to determine whether a new arena would be built," Pitts said.

The schedule in the lease calls for the city to have control of a site and prepare preliminary plans by March 1, 1992. If a reasonable plan is not prepared by then, the Sabres can terminate the lease agreement by June 30, 1992.

Pitts called that date "D-Day" and said the fate of a new arena will be known by then.

Other items in the lease call for financial commitments for the project to be completed by Jan. 1, 1993, and construction to begin by March 31, 1993. Completion is due by Aug. 31, 1994. The Sabres also will be allowed to terminate the lease if those goals are not reached.

The lease also allows the city to pull out by June 30, 1993. The lease does not set any conditions for the city to terminate the agreement.

In return for using the Aud, the Sabres will pay the city $1.47 million in rent for 1990-91, $1.55 million for 1991-92, $1.6 million for 1992-93, $1.7 million for 1993-94 and $1.75 million for 1994-95. The 1994-95 rent will be reduced if the team is playing in the new arena.

Pitts said $300,000 is available for the city to conduct a feasibility study for the project. He said he expects that Mayor Griffin will not veto the interim lease because he has been briefed on its progress by Sabres officials.

Pitts believes the city already has committed to pay for at least 40 percent of the project. That is because the city had been willing to spend $38 million to refurbish the Aud. Pitts also said the Sabres are expected to hire a lobbyist to approach the state for funds.

In other matters, the Council:

Overrode the mayor's veto of a plan that would pay property owners eligible for refunds in the Hurd tax overpayment case by April 1, 1991. The city is asking the state for a $23 million loan to settle claims with property owners who did not receive court judgments.

Sent to the Finance Committee a proposal that National Fuel Gas Co. receive $1.75 million to settle its judgment claim in the Hurd case. The city had offered $1.45 million, but the company has asked for 100 percent of the amount owed, about $2.4 million. Council members said National Fuel already may have rejected the $1.75 million offer.

Approved a measure that urges the city to stop doing business with Blue Cross of Western New York. The Council resolution supports union members who are negotiating a new contract with the company.

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