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Council supports outer harbor stadium, NFTA says no

The Common Council is set to call on the owners of land on the Outer Harbor to grant development rights to a group wanting to build a football stadium and entertainment complex.

The Council does not control the land, however, and the state authority that does is not in favor of the project.

“We’re not doing that,” said Howard Zemsky, chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, when asked about the Council resolution.

The authority is committed to maintaining public access of the waterfront land it controls, Zemsky said.

The Council resolution was signed by eight of nine members when it was filed on Thursday, assuring it will pass when the Council meets next week.

It calls on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the State Legislature and the NFTA to grant the development group a nine- to 12-month option on the Buffalo Outer Harbor.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Majority Leader Demone A. Smith. “They said they’re ready to go.”

Some Council members said the idea should be given a chance and should not be rejected immediately.

“Let’s look at this site and give it a proper vetting, a proper consideration,” said Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk. “It might be a good idea but we’re not going to know if people don’t take it seriously.”

Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex is proposing a $1.5 billion waterfront development, which would include a 72,000-seat football stadium with a retractable roof suitable for other kinds of sporting events, retail space, a convention center and sports museum. The project was designed by HKS, which has experience developing National Football League facilities.

“If they give us an option on the land, we should be able to come back in nine to 12 months with a plan to move forward,” said project spokesman Pat Freeman.

Project principals Nicholas J. Stracick and George F. Hasiotis have said that getting an option to develop the land is crucial for its success. The Council resolution does not say how much land should be included in the option, but in the past principals have said they would like an option on 167 acres.

But Zemsky, like other waterfront advocates, is not moved by the idea.

“I personally think the idea of converting the Outer Harbor to a parking lot and stadium is misguided,” he said.

Rep. Brian Higgins and County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz have also expressed doubts about the project.

Skeptics raise questions about how the project will be financed, how people will get in and out of the stadium with the existing infrastructure, whether it’s the highest and best use of waterfront land and whether the Bills are on board.

Three members of the Erie County Legislature also have shown support for granting an outer harbor land option to the group.

Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick, R-City of Tonawanda, has introduced a resolution supporting the project’s “endeavor to obtain a nine- to 12-month land option from Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority on the Buffalo Outer Harbor.”

The resolution, which is also sponsored by Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo, and Legislator Timothy R. Hogues, D-Buffalo, has been sent to the Legislature’s Economic Development Committee.

News Staff Reporter Denise Jewell Gee contributed to this report.