City and county legislators Friday predicted prompt action on approving the $125 million Adelphia deal, including Common Council President James W. Pitts, who criticized the fact lawmakers were left out of final negotiations.
Pitts said there are issues that must be further discussed, including $375,000 in unpaid ground rent that Adelphia owes the city for HSBC Arena and affirmative action goals on the new project, but he believes a Council vote could be imminent.
"If Adelphia, the city and others are willing to sit down and talk about certain issues, this Council can move forward expeditiously," said Pitts. "Now that we finally have the information, we will try to move this project ahead."
Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore, predicted the County Legislature will approve the Adelphia deal within 30 days. It requires a $19 million subsidy from the county in cash and tax incentives, including $7 million for a parking ramp.
"There are a lot of questions," Swanick said, "but my sense is this is a project we need to complete in Buffalo. So while there will be issues raised, I'm prepared to tell you the County Legislature will authorize the Adelphia project in 30 days or less."
A majority of Buffalo Common Council members also predict the Adelphia deal -- which includes $15.5 million in city subsidies -- will be approved within a few weeks.
Barring the discovery of any unpleasant surprises buried in documents that hit officials' desks at noon Friday, most lawmakers expect to see swift action on the long-awaited plan.
Council Majority Leader Rosemarie LoTempio thinks a final vote could come in early March, if not sooner.
"You have Council members who are genuinely dedicated to the growth of Buffalo," LoTempio said. "Once everyone has a chance to review it, I think you'll have all 13 Council members on board."
Negotiators have said Pitts' earlier concerns about the city's forfeiture of $500,000 in annual ground rent at the arena have been addressed in the revised deal. They said the losses would be offset
by property taxes the city will receive from the land where the Adelphia tower will be built and by savings from refinancing the bond issued to build the arena five years ago.
Pitts said he must still review the documents, but that if lost ground rents are offset by other revenues, the move would address his earlier fears that property taxes would have to be increased as a result of the lost rent.
However, Pitts said he still thinks Adelphia should be forced to pay $375,000 in unpaid arena ground rents dating to last June.
At a news conference Friday, Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said the final deal reached with Adelphia calls for the loss of the ground rent to be retroactive to last June, the time at which the agreement was first announced by Gov. George E. Pataki and other government leaders.
Masiello also said the Adelphia project won't begin generating property taxes until after the tower is built two to three years from now.
The mayor said that Alan DeLisle, executive director of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., and Edward Hartman, vice president of Adelphia, will provide briefings on the deal to any Council members who want them.
University Council Member Betty Jean Grant said her main priority is making sure Buffalo property owners don't have to shoulder financial burdens as a result of the Adelphia deal.
"If we can be assured that taxes won't be increased, then I think it's a good deal and would enthusiastically support it," said Grant, who is chairwoman of the Council's Finance Committee.
Other lawmakers who have expressed initial support for the plan, subject to a final review of the documents, are Lovejoy Council Member Richard Fontana, Council Member at Large Charley H. Fisher III, South Council Member Mary M. Martino, North Council Member Joseph Golembek Jr. and Niagara Council Member Dominic J. Bonifacio.
While Bonifacio stressed that officials must still scrutinize details, he said the package appears to be a "good deal" for the city.
"Our contribution is only 12 percent of the entire package. When you have the state and county coming up with all these dollars for a project that will benefit Buffalo, this is an opportunity that cannot escape us."
The state, through its development agency, Empire State Development Corp., is contributing $98.6 million to the project, including $50 million in cash.
"I want to applaud the governor and his people and the Rigases for keeping their eye on the prize to jump-start a new economy for Western New York," the mayor said.
Fisher said Adelphia's decision to embrace the city's demand for a goal of a 15 percent minority and 5 percent female work force for both project construction and permanent staffing further enhances the deal's chances of passage. Adelphia had earlier pushed for a 10 percent minority and 2 percent female work force.
Fisher said he was recently involved in a 90-minute conference call with negotiators for Adelphia and the city about the affirmative action goals.
"This is a victory for minority and women businesses," Fisher said of the revised goals. "Now, let's get on with it and build this project."
But Pitts said there could be further discussion on the issue, noting that a number of recent projects, including a modernization at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, had higher affirmative action goals.
LoTempio said it will ultimately take 10 votes to approve tax incentives for Adelphia, but she expressed confidence that there will be sufficient support.
Four Council members could not be reached to comment.
Delaware Council Member Marc A. Coppola underscored the importance of making sure residents understand the project before a final vote is taken.
"A lot of constituents aren't happy that Adelphia would get so many subsidies, especially right after it raised cable rates," said Coppola. "It's pretty bad timing."
The deal is expected to have bipartisan support in the County Legislature. Minority Leader John W. Greenan, R-West Seneca, said the prospects for prompt approval are good. "The entire Legislature has supported this project from day one," he said. "I'm real confident we'll all be supportive of this deal."