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ICE-RINK ARENA PLAN MIRED IN CONTROVERSY

It's being billed as the biggest ice arena in the area, aimed at serving thousands of skaters in Amherst as well as attracting regional and national ice tournaments.

But this dream of a four-rink, first-class facility has become mired in controversy.

Recently, for example, there have been:

Disclosures that $7 million in liens have been filed in Onondaga County against companies associated with the principals of Edgewater Ventures Co., the Syracuse company Amherst designated as preferred developer of its ice-rink project.

Conflicting reports on the best way to finance the facility. The town's financial adviser last week said it would cost $3 million less for the town to finance the ice rink than to have the town's Industrial Development Agency handle it. The town Engineering Department Thursday issued a report saying it would cost $4.6 million to $6.2 million more if the town handles it.

Questions from an independent bond counsel about whether the IDA can legally finance the project, as well as questions from the state as to whether the town can transfer property to the IDA without payment.

Some town officials are ready to trash the Edgewater plan and begin a new one.

"It's over," said Council Member Bill Kindel. "Let's get off of this exotic scheme and back to ground earth. Let the healing process begin."

Others aren't ready to declare the Edgewater plan dead. "It's really important the Town Board have all information before it makes a decision," said Council Member Jane S. Woodward. "My mind is open. My principal concern is what seems to be the steady and progressive deterioration of the current rinks."

Two public hearings on the plan this week will help decide what happens.

The Town Board will hold one tonight on the proposed arrangement with Edgewater. The town Industrial Development Agency will have one Wednesday on Edgewater's plan to finance the $17.9 million project through the IDA.

Edgewater's proposal calls for building a four-rink arena at the Audubon Recreation Center off Millersport Highway and Maple Road across from the University at Buffalo North Campus.

The arena also would include a food court, restaurant, arcade, retail store featuring skating accessories, locker rooms and an exercise facility/health center for skaters and their parents.

Under the plan, Edgewater would receive about $700,000 to develop the facility, and it guarantees the cost won't exceed $17.9 million. If it does, the developer picks up the additional costs, said John E. Cerio, an Edgewater partner.

Once open, the rink would be managed by Delaware North Cos. of Buffalo, which would receive an annual fee of $100,000.

The town, however, would be responsible for repaying the $17.9 million cost of the project, plus interest.

Under the Edgewater/Delaware North plan, revenue to repay the debt would come largely from arena fees, with the town providing additional funds for the first nine years the rink operates.

Rink revenues would come largely from charging skating organizations, on average, $116-an-hour rink fees. Additional money would come from such things as tournaments, public skating and lesson fees, as well as money from food and retail concessions.

Edgewater/Delaware North also proposes selling the naming rights of the facility for at least $25,000 to $30,000 a year, and the developer-manager plans to rent space to the town's Recreation Department for about $3,500 a month.

It is estimated that the rink will bring in about $1.7 million in its first year and that it will cost about $1.04 million to operate.

But the town will have to add $196,000 to meet the debt payment schedule the first year of operation. The town's obligation would increase to $430,000 in the third year, then gradually drop off to $61,000 in the ninth year. By the 10th year, the rink would be operating with an $11,000 surplus, according to the Edgewater/Delaware North projections.

If those projections don't come to fruition, however, the town would bear the cost, not Delaware North or Edgewater. The town then could either increase its subsidy or raise rink fees.

Cerio detailed the Edgewater/Delaware North projections during a three-hour meeting with The Buffalo News, saying some town officials have unfairly criticized his firm recently.

Cerio said the liens against companies associated with some of the principals of Edgewater have no bearing on the ice-rink project because his company has agreed to supply a performance bond covering the arena's entire cost.

Most of the liens, he said, resulted from an unsuccessful project developed in downtown Syracuse that was unable to attract needed retail and office tenants. The lien is in the process of being settled, he said.

Cerio said he is confident that the ice rink will be much less expensive if financed through the IDA, as the town engineer's study found. The IDA doesn't have to comply with public bidding laws that the town must.

Cerio also said he believes that the IDA can legally bond the project and that the land can be transferred to the IDA from the town.

Some town officials remain concerned.

"At this point, we can't seem to get a favorable opinion on the whole structure of the IDA involvement," said Supervisor Susan J. Grelick. "The issue with the transfer is unresolved. The fact that we are avoiding public bidding doesn't look good. . . . I have serious reservations about the way the package has been put together."

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