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Old DL&W terminal looking more likely as site for casino

The odds are improving that the former DL&W rail terminal will become a Seneca Nation of Indians casino.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's board of commissioners met in executive session Monday to discuss the Senecas' interest in the NFTA-owned property.

Authority Chairman Luiz F. Kahl confirmed that the closed-door session focused on the future of the Metro Rail facility but declined to provide details.

"We have had contact with the Senecas, and we know it is one of their preferred sites," Kahl said. "It's clear they are really doing their homework, so we wanted to do ours, too."

Kahl described preliminary contact with the Senecas and the Seneca Gaming Corp. as "very positive and very professional."

Sources said the Senecas have received an independent appraisal of the terminal building and could be in a position to make a purchase offer to the NFTA in a matter of days. The building, which is situated on 8.6 acres, has an assessed value of $10.9 million, but no taxes are collected because it is owned by a public authority.

The Senecas have remained silent on location options for the long-awaited Buffalo casino, only saying they are working from a shortlist of three downtown sites.

Seneca representatives met with Buffalo Sabres officials late last week to discuss how a casino would fit into the fabric of lower Main Street and the Cobblestone District. If the DL&W site is the future home of Seneca gaming, the Senecas and the Sabres will need to be on the same page regarding parking and traffic control, especially on game and event nights.

The Sabres were said to be welcoming of the Senecas' plans.

Built in 1917, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western building was once part of a complex that included rail and boat transportation options. The NFTA bought it from the City of Buffalo for $190,000 in October 1979, razing the dilapidated ticket hall and converting the ground floor for storage and maintainance of the Metro Rail car fleet.

Any deal the NFTA might reach with the Senecas would need to be structured as a sale/lease-back, with the transportation authority getting a permanent lease for the ground-level rail facility.

The second floor of the building has long been considered for development, with proposals ranging from a museum to restaurants and shops. Some of the plans have called for adding floors to the building.

The Senecas' plans call for a 120,000-square-foot city casino, which would employ about 1,000 people. The second floor of the DL&W building is considered an ideal layout for a one-level gambling venue.

The Senecas also have had preliminary talks with the city about buying the so-called Cobblestone parking lots across South Park Avenue from the DL&W building. Owned by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, the surface lots could readily hold large-capacity parking ramps, with overhead connections to the DL&W building.

The two lots are assessed at $1.4 million.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said that while there are no firm deals are on the table, "the stars seem to be aligned."

"What's being talked about has a lot of potential, but there's no done deal and nothing is final," Masiello said. "I think everybody's moving cautiously but positively."

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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