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CITY LINES UP FOR PART OF $425 MILLION

The money wish lists have begun, and Buffalo will find itself standing in a long line of communities eager for cash from a new state funding pool.

With a pot of money totaling $425 million sitting ready to be tapped, officials from across the state have begun putting their pleas in to Gov. Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan.

The three men set aside the pool of undedicated funds from the year's budget as part of a highly unusual -- and much-criticized -- process for funding cultural and economic-development projects.

A memorandum of understanding signed last week by the three leaders set general guidelines for how the money was to be spent. In the end, though, Pataki, Bruno and Silver will be able to split up the pot in whatever ways they want -- which has critics arguing it will be used as a political slush fund.

Most of the money is not yet earmarked; nearly $100 million -- much of that going to renovate Rich Stadium to keep the Bills in town -- has already been claimed.

In written pleas to the triumvirate that runs state government, Mayor Masiello said the city is looking to receive tens of millions of dollars from the pot to fund everything from redevelopment of an old factory site in South Buffalo to the historic Cobblestone District project to renovations of several performing arts centers.

"I don't have any indication of anything," said Masiello, when asked if he had assurances any of the projects would be funded. "I do believe they are important to our city's development, and we're going to continue to pursue them."

In all, Masiello is seeking $45 million from the pot of money dubbed the Communities Enhancement Facilities Assistance Program.

No one was saying no immediately to Masiello's request, but a spokesman for Bruno noted the Bills' funding contained in the $425 million pool is already the largest individually funded item.

"Buffalo did very well in terms of monies that will be flowing to keep the Bills in Buffalo. The whole impetus behind this ($425 million) fund was the Bills. That's why we have a fund to begin with because of our efforts and those of others who wanted to see the Bills remain in Buffalo," said the spokesman, John McArdle. He said Bruno had not yet seen Masiello's request.

Nearly half of Masiello's new request, or $20 million, would go to fund the city's historic Cobblestone redevelopment project near the Marine Midland Arena, which would include construction of ice rinks, renovation of buildings and creation of cultural facilities, including a children's and science and technology museums.

Another $10 million would target the South Buffalo Redevelopment Plan, involving 1,200 acres of brownfield sites stretching from the Buffalo River to Ridge Road and from the Lake Erie shoreline to Hopkins Street.

Announced recently, the ambitious proposal, involving park, industrial and residential development, would take 10 to 20 years to complete.

Masiello also requested $2 million apiece for two business incubator centers.

One is located in a medical corridor developing near Roswell Park Cancer Center and Buffalo General Hospital. The other will go to locate businesses at a 20-acre industrial site, Masiello said, along the city's future Northeast Parkway, from the former Harrison Radiator plant on Clyde Avenue to the American Axle and Manufacturing plant on East Delavan Avenue. The mayor also said the fund should go to help Buffalo's cultural attractions.

In his request, Masiello asked for $3 million for the renovation of Shea's Performing Arts Center, $3 million for Kleinhans Music Hall, $3 million for the Darwin Martin House and $1 million apiece for the Allendale Theater on Allen Street and Apollo Theater on Jefferson Avenue.

When the big money pot will be emptied is anyone's guess, but it is likely the announcements will continue well into next year.

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