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Senecas drop rail terminal from casino plans DL&W site no longer in 'best interests' of downtown project, NFTA is told

The Seneca Nation of Indians is no longer interested in making a downtown rail terminal part of its Buffalo casino development.

Seneca President Barry E. Snyder Sr. has sent a letter to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority notifying the agency that the Seneca Nation is ending negotiations to buy the 89-year-old former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad complex at the foot of Main Street near HSBC Arena.

"Our decision is based solely on the nation's best interests for its future gaming operations in Buffalo," Snyder wrote. "As I've previously disclosed publicly, the nation has acquired all the land necessary to build its Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino."

The Senecas, who broke ground Dec. 9 at a nine-acre site along Michigan Avenue, two blocks from the DL&W terminal, had continued to consider the upper floor of the waterfront building for an extension of its gambling operation.

NFTA Executive Director Lawrence M. Meckler said that although Seneca representatives met with NFTA executives after the groundbreaking and continued to have conversations within the last month, the deal was not coming together.

"We knew that there were a number of issues they'd have to overcome, but until they did their due diligence and made a final decision, it remained an open file," Meckler said.

The NFTA executive said a key obstacle was relocating the building's electrical systems, which are on the upper floor.

"Our electrical equipment and transformers would have to be moved, which would have added millions to their project expenses," Meckler said. "There were also a number of design issues with having a train operation on the first floor that they felt they couldn't overcome."

Seneca representatives first contacted the NFTA late last summer as they explored the feasibility of the rail site as their main casino venue. That plan would have required related deals to gain control of adjacent parking lots controlled by the Buffalo Sabres and the City of Buffalo.

In September, the Senecas offered the NFTA $3.6 million for the building, in a proposed deal that included a lease-back arrangement so the agency could continue using the ground floor to house its Metro Rail fleet.

After selecting the Michigan Avenue site, the Senecas continued to investigate using the 100,000-square-foot rail site to extend their presence in the city's Cobblestone District by developing additional gaming, retail, entertainment and restaurant space at what would be a satellite location.

The Senecas' decision to forgo gaming at the DL&W site does not mean the building will not have a bright redevelopment future. The $1.4 billion waterfront plan unveiled by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. earlier this month envisions the site playing a key role in the revitalization of lower Main Street.

"It's in our plan, and we view it as a tremendous asset," said Lawrence W. Quinn, vice president of the harbor corporation.

The multiphase plan for redevelopment is anchored by the proposed Bass Pro Outdoor World store in the old Memorial Auditorium and a trio of new commercial buildings expected by late 2008. The blueprint for later phases calls for development of the DL&W building's upper floor and the possibility of additional construction at the site.

Built in 1917, the DL&W building was once part of a larger complex that included rail and boat transportation options. The NFTA bought it from the City of Buffalo in 1979, razing the deteriorated ticket hall that stood next to it and converting the ground floor for storage and maintainance of the Metro Rail fleet.

"Whatever happens there, we don't want to do it in a vacuum," Meckler said. "We want it to fit in with the master plan for that area and make sense for the community."

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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