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FISHING FOR BASS PRO
TAXPAYERS SHOULD NOT BE ASKED TO PAY FOR 70 PERCENT OF THIS PROJECT

It's understandable why city and county officials would want to lure a Bass Pro Outdoor World store to Buffalo's waterfront. It could be a financial boon to this area, and an anchor for future development of the Inner Harbor. If its other stores are any indication, Bass Pro would draw outdoorsmen from the entire Western New York region.

But a deal that requires the taxpayer to put up most of the upfront money, and take most of the risk, is probably not a deal worth doing. That said, Mayor Anthony Masiello and County Executive Joel Giambra ought to make every effort to reach a reasonable deal. The unfortunate reality is that Buffalo needs to take chances that other cities with healthier economies don't have to. But that doesn't mean this community should let itself be taken advantage of.

Bass Pro, as part of the Erie Canal Harbor redevelopment, would be the perfect fit -- but only at a reasonable cost. Masiello and Giambra are entirely correct to balk at what the county executive has described as a 70-30 public-private split to fund the $104 million project in the vacant Memorial Auditorium.

We are not in a position to say what the magic number is that would make this deal viable. But we do know that a business that wants to fund only 30 percent of a deal with its own money is asking too much of taxpayers. The HSBC Arena was about a 55-45 percent split, with slightly more public funding. Projects such as the former Goldome Building, Key Towers and the Fleet Bank Building received Urban Development Action Grants that required a minimum of $2.50 of private investment for every $1 of UDAG funds.

There have been some projects that have gotten done with the public chipping in almost half the costs. And that might be necessary in the case of Bass Pro. A lot depends on the details of the deal. One thing is for sure, though, taxpayers should not be asked to pay for 70 percent of this project.

State, county and city officials are working with the project's designated developer, Bos Group, to make the numbers work. Buffalo is not in a position to drive a hard bargain. But it doesn't have to give away the store, either.

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