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Hamburg voters will decide fate of sports complex

Voters in the Town of Hamburg will decide if a private company will build a twin for the town's ice rink and take over operations of the municipal sports complex.

The Town Board decided Monday to put the plan to a townwide referendum within 60 to 75 days.

"It's important for the public to have a great deal of input on this project," Town Supervisor Steven Walters said.

The new rink project at the Nike Base Recreation Center on Lakeview Road is expected to cost $9 million to $11 million, he said.

Leaping Sports Facility Management LLC, a partnership between town resident Jeff Walker and ex-Sabre Dave Andreychuk, proposes to build and operate the ice complex under a long-term lease with the town.

If a majority of voters approve the plan, it will still face a vote in the State Legislature to turn park land over to private hands.

Residents said they wanted to know more details before going into the voting booth.

"I hope there's a long enough time frame to review [information]," Leonard Kowalski said, "to make sure the town and the proposed lessee are getting a fair shake."

The town will try to schedule two information meetings to distribute project details to the public before the referendum, Walters said. Project information may also be put on the town's Web site.

At an information meeting in December, Walker and Andreychuk described a project including a field house, indoor soccer facility and a restaurant, as well as a second ice rink. The sports management company would line up financing and guarantee one-third of the project cost.

The company was the only respondent to the town's request for proposals last year.

Under the privatization plan, the partnership would shoulder expenses of the sports complex and keep any surplus revenue, up to a limit that is still to be established. The current town-operated rink, built in 1974, runs at a loss, according to Walters. The estimated costs for holding the special vote are about $5,000, he said.

Proponents of the rink privatization plan say it will alleviate the shortage of ice time for Hamburg youth hockey players while shifting recreation costs away from taxpayers. But critics question the town's risk in the project and whether to turn over control of municipal property to private hands.

In other action, the Town Board:

*Amended a sign law to allow easier conversion of existing billboards into electronic signs.

*Enacted a requirement of at least four hours of training per year for members of the Planning and Zoning boards.

*Set March 23 as the public hearing for a zoning change at the Penn-Dixie fossil site. The switch of five acres to parks-recreation classification would aid the creation of a planned visitors center.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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