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ARENA PLAN DRAWS SUPPORT FROM USERS

A public hearing on a plan to build an ice arena in Amherst with financing from tax-exempt bonds drew support from potential users as well as questions about the ultimate cost and impact on taxpayers.

Members of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency board, meeting in Town Hall Wednesday night, heard comments from a dozen residents.

The board will decide whether to offer tax-exempt financing for the project when it meets next Thursday. Cost estimates vary on the facility, which features four ice rinks as well as support facilities. An information sheet issued at Wednesday's hearing noted that issuing up to $18,350,000 in bonds would save the town at least $4,651,963 on the project cost.

The total cost of the new facility, which would include renovating the current rink at the Audubon Recreation Center and construction three other rinks, is estimated at between $17.9 million, with IDA financing, and $22.6 million without it.

Supervisor Susan J. Grelick attributed the difference to financing the cost of renovating the current facility while new construction occurs, and estimates by the town's Engineering Department that included funding for cost overruns.

Even if the the IDA decides to offer bonds for the project, the Town Board again will have to vote on the project.

"We will ultimately have to make the decision," she said after the hearing. Ms. Grelick also said town officials are still receiving new information on the project.

"My main concern is, is this going to raise my taxes? And who's going to pick up the tab if this thing doesn't work," resident Joseph Amico said.

"I am not against the project, but many statements on it seem vague," said resident George Richmond, who asked for better financial information.

Duncan M. Black, an architect who has worked on the proposed project, called the arena "a very viable project, and it needs to be done."

Black, however, questioned figures town engineers are using to estimate the cost and said the IDA and the Town Board should give the public a "rational explanation" on the difference.

Seiji Ohrake of the Amherst Skating Club said the project "may ultimately be the best solution."

"What I am concerned with is that we have to look at the present situation: You have two arenas in need of more than $1 million in repairs," he said.

Ohrake said the club will be host to October's North Atlantic Skating Championship, one of nine regional events leading up to a national skating competition. But because the town's facilities are substandard, the competition must be held in Niagara Falls.

He added that such competitions bring in as many as 600 competitors, fans, coaches and family members, spinning off business to hotels, restaurants and retailers.

"The demographics show there is a huge need for this facility," said Bill Grillo of the Amherst Hockey Club.

He added that currently, town hockey leagues have to lease five or six rinks outside the town.

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