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In Focus: George Hasiotis on waterfront stadium

Supporters of a plan to build a $1.4 billion stadium and museum complex on Buffalo’s outer harbor insist the concept is feasible. They claim it would be a year-round economic engine for the region.

But skeptics have scoffed at the retractable-roof stadium plan.

George Hasiotis is vice president of Greater Buffalo Sports & Entertainment Complex, the entity that is proposing to build the stadium and multipurpose complex. He sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer to discuss the project. While Hasiotis suggested it’s premature to discuss financing specifics, developers would eventually seek about $400 million in public funding.

Here is a summary of some issues in the interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series.

Meyer: Skeptics basically call this a pie-in-the-sky development ... do they have the right to be skeptical, given the magnitude of the project and all of these unanswered questions?

Hasiotis: No, they don’t have a right to be skeptical, because it’s a very comprehensive proposal. It also is serious in the sense that there are benchmarks. You can’t turn down a reasonable or professional proposal that comes from really the most renowned international design and planning firm in the country, if not in the world. HKS of Dallas is our design and planning partner, and they work intimately with the NFL on new stadium development ... They’ve done Indianapolis, which is our model ... [The naysayers] are a few people in positions of authority who feel threatened or may have other ideas. However, they don’t have the right – they don’t have the legal right and they certainly don’t have the authority – to stop something when all we’re asking for is an opportunity for due diligence for a land option – not ownership of the land, but to pay for a land option ...

Meyer: You talked about due diligence. Some people are wondering why the process wasn’t done in the opposite way ... at least talking [in advance] with the Bills...

Hasiotis: It’s a fallacy to think, and it’s wrong-headed to think, that the Bills have [anything] to do with this ... If you want to buy a piece of property, you’ll get preclearance for financing, but you will not be able to proceed with financing or due diligence. You do the study, you do the site survey, you do all of that. But you need to go to the financing institution or to the license holder – in this case the NFL – with the property.

Meyer: On the financing end, you’re talking about a third in public financing?

Hasiotis: There’s no out-of-pocket public cost to this until we’ve gone way down the road – many years down the road. And what public cost there would be would come primarily from existing budgets for transportation, for brownfield cleanup, from existing state and federal budgets. So we’re not talking about the opposite model of subsidizing millionaires and billionaires as we do now with the Buffalo Bills or even the Sabres ... What the NFL needs from this community, and what the NFL has told our professional partners is Buffalo better show that they want this franchise, because this nonsense about renovating a stadium that’s shot is going nowhere.

Meyer: But has the NFL been supportive in your talks [about] this project?

Hasiotis: Absolutely.

Meyer: We’ve really not heard that.

Hasiotis: You won’t hear that, because these are all one-on-one conversations between professionals that work in this business day to day.

The NFL wants a commitment from this community that this community wants a new facility. Because otherwise, this franchise is leaving. And you don’t have two or three or four years to study that with a blue-ribbon commission.

That’s the wrong way to go, and that’s a recipe for disaster.