Share this article

print logo

Hamburg cutting residents out of the loop in planning for major recreation complex

Apparently, when it comes to a proposed twin-rink, multimillion-dollar sports complex in Hamburg, information is being doled out on a strictly “need-to-know” basis.

This despite the fact that the residents being kept in the dark could end up having to bail out the deal if it goes wrong.

The town supervisor is insisting that the deal won’t go south and if, against the odds, it does, then the town is just third in line to pay the price.

Not exactly reassuring. But then again, the clandestine manner in which plans for this sports complex are coming together is troubling to anyone who cares about transparency and the public’s right to know about projects affecting, well, the public.

As outlined by News staff reporter Barbara O’Brien, young hockey players could start the 2017 season on brand new ice at twin rinks in a gleaming and expensive complex that features a field house and possibly a swimming pool. If built, the complex would surely be a draw for athletes of all kinds.

But the way this deal is coming together has some people wondering if it’s a little too slick. The Hamburg Town Board approved a nondisclosure agreement with Nustadia Recreation of Hamilton, Ont., and D.V. Brown & Associates of the City of Tonawanda. The two parties are reportedly “exploring the design, financing, construction and operation of a sports complex.”

Few details are known. For instance, Supervisor Steven J. Walters says the location is not known. Yet, the town would own the property, according to the agreement, and the cost to the town is not known. Councilwoman Cheryl Potter-Juda offered a hopeful comment about the town getting donations and avoiding any cost to the town.

But avoiding all pain to town residents seems optimistic. Nustadia would be responsible for first $67,000 of any deficit, if the facility goes into the red once it starts operating. Then a contingency fund would kick in before the town would have to bear the burden. Walters refers to this as the town acting as “No. 3 in a three-step process of funding deficits for the facility.”

Even more alarming is what the supervisor reportedly did not say – if the project is not built, the nondisclosure agreement approved on a 2-1 vote involves financial penalties for the town. If the town decides not to go forward after receiving preliminary information and the basic building design, it has agreed to pay the developer $40,000. If the town decides to stop after receiving the final plans, it must pay $520,000.

Despite Potter-Juda’s assurances that the situation would never go that far, the secrecy surrounding a deal involving so much money is troubling. Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said it best: the nondisclosure agreement has to remain consistent with the law. “The law determines what is public, not the private agreement,” he said.

Moreover, it is up to the town to prove whether disclosure would cause substantial injury to the company. It is hard to believe letting the public in on such a huge project would do such harm.

A proposal for an ice rink in 2009 was shot down by residents in a referendum. This time there will be no referendum, and precious little information.

Six years ago, residents had a seat at the table. They deserve as much today.