Nov. 22, 1934 – June 3, 2015
Nicholas J. Stracick, a Niagara Falls native and former baseball umpire and entrepreneur known for winning a lawsuit against Walt Disney Co. for stealing his idea for its Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World, died Wednesday in Mercy Hospital. He was 80.
After his early career as an umpire in the major and minor leagues, he focused on developing sports entertainment beyond the professional playing season and was an early proponent of a downtown stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
“He was old school. He was like a Mickey Rooney,” said George Hasiotis, who worked with Mr. Stracick on a plan for a $1.4 billion domed football stadium, hotel, convention center, sports museum and expansive park on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.
In the 1980s, Mr. Stracick worked with a small group of investors from Ontario and Buffalo on a plan for a sports park with fields and athlete fantasy camps for children and adults adjacent to Disney World in Florida. A theme park addition now called the Wide World of Sports Complex led to Mr. Stracick’s lawsuit; a jury awarded him $240 million after successful representation by the late Johnnie Cochran, the lawyer who defended O.J. Simpson in his murder trial.
When Disney moved to appeal, the terms were renegotiated to an undisclosed sum in an out-of-court settlement in 2002. The amount was split with Cochran and the other investors, Hasiotis said.
Mr. Stracick’s share would have been about 40 percent of the split, said Hasiotis.
Mr. Stracick grew up in Niagara Falls and Lake Shore, where his mother ran a neighborhood grocery. After serving in the Air Force in the 1950s and working as an umpire in the 1960s, he was a Buffalo city marshal and operated a legal notice process service from 1970 to 1979.
After his win against Disney, Mr. Stracick went on to develop the Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex proposal for a waterfront Bills stadium.
“He had a vision for kind of a new sports entertainment complex,” said Hasiotis, a partner in the company. “That was really what consumed Nick the last seven or eight years of his life.”
He thought the NFL’s commitment to the city would be ensured with a multi-use 70,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium that would reuse polluted waterfront land. Some of the project, including architectural plans, was financed with about $1 million from Mr. Stracick.
Investors still hope that it will be built some day. The proposal, now before Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula, was unanimously endorsed last year by the Buffalo Common Council and has its own Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex Facebook page, Hasiotis said.
Mr. Stracick is survived by two daughters, RoseMarie and Barbara Anne; his brother, Robert; a granddaughter; and a great-granddaughter.
A memorial service is being planned.