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Details slim on multimillion-dollar sports facility in Hamburg

The $20 million to $30 million sportsplex being planned in Hamburg – with twin ice rinks, fieldhouse, gyms, pro shop, restaurant, snack bar and its public-private partnership – would be the first of its kind in the area.

The developer, Sportstar Capital of Toronto, would buy the property, build the facility and manage it. And in several decades, the town would own the facility.

Hamburg would be a partner in the project, and would take some risk if it lost money. But as a partner, it would share in any profits, too.

That’s the broad outline, according to town officials.

But other details are scarce, like how much it would cost the town, where in Hamburg it would go and what the public/private partnership entails.

Back in January, the Town Board met with Sportstar and another potential developer, the Kaleta Group, behind closed doors after a company with a similar proposal, Nustadia, dropped its project last year. It had been quiet since, but then last week, the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce called for the Town Board to choose a developer and then the matter appeared on the agenda for Monday’s board meeting.

Even councilmen said they did not know it was going to come up for a vote Monday until Supervisor Steven J. Walters put it on the agenda.

Walters said the town has been working on the proposal for months but had nothing concrete to show residents until now.

“We can’t go to the public until we have something to go to the public with,” he said.

The board was planning to vote Monday night on an agreement with Sportstar until it changed its mind and voted 2-1 to draft and negotiate the agreement instead.

Board members had been invited to a Chamber of Commerce meeting on the sportsplex earlier this month, but only Walters attended, because if a second councilman had attended, it could be considered a meeting of the Town Board. The Chamber endorsed picking a developer Monday night based on the tourism and economic development the center could bring to the town.

Councilman Thomas Best Jr. said he is not against the project or the developer, but feels there is a lack of transparency on the part of the town. He voted against the measure, and said the board received the proposed agreement just three days before the meeting.

“We never discussed the agreement as a board,” he said of the pact the board was poised to approve. “I think we put a divide where we didn’t have to.”

In contrast, Orchard Park town officials have talked about the need for a new senior community center at Town Board meetings for years. A standing-room-only crowd was on hand last month when the board revealed plans for a combined senior and youth center that would cost the town $20 million to $30 million.

The board is polling Orchard Park residents online to see which version of the center they prefer.

In Hamburg, there have been other proposals over the years for new ice rinks that never materialized. And Hamburg residents still remember a proposal to expand the town’s existing ice arena from one to two rinks that was soundly defeated by voters in 2009.

Walters said the new proposal is different: The town would have financed the older $10 million to $12 million project, and it is not holding the loan on the new sportsplex. Also, there will be no public vote on this project.

He said the first step the developer will take is to complete a feasibility study.

If the twin rinks are built, the town would close its ice pad at the Nike Base and move its recreation programs to the new facility, Recreation Director Martin Denecke said. A pool might be added to the facility after it is built.

The facility is to be governed by a committee, and the town would appoint at least half of the members of the committee, town officials said.

Walters also said there has been no discussion of seeking tax breaks from the Hamburg Industrial Development Agency.

Sportstar, a sports and recreation development company based in Toronto, would develop a site that has yet to be determined.

The company developed the Youngs Sportplex in Welland, Ont., an indoor fieldhouse with outdoor soccer fields, in 2012. The building has solar panels and sells power to the electric grid, according to the company website.

Rink Management Services Corp. of Virginia, which has completed more than 47 rink projects, would manage the facility. The company is the largest operator of ice skating facilities in the country, according to its website.

Walters said three combined ice and fieldhouse facilities Rink Management has developed and/or manages include the Reisterstown, Md., Sportsplex, the Capital Clubhouse Recreation Center in Waldorf, Md., and the Richard E. Workman Sports and Wellness Complex, a fitness and aquatics center in Effingham, Ill.

While many in the town say they want a multi-sports facility, the project got mixed reviews at the Town Board meeting Monday night. David McDermott, president of Hamburg Hawks Hockey, which would be the main tenant for the ice arenas, said his group learned in a meeting with Rink Management that ice costs would be $230 hour, which he said would cost the association $80,000 more a year.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” Walters said.

Walters said the cost to rent ice is not known because the feasibility study has not been completed yet. But he agreed that a high cost to local hockey players would not be feasible.

“We have to make sure not only that the building will be built, but that the building is affordable for groups so we can fill the building,” Walters said.

Councilman Michael Quinn and the town attorney will be negotiating with the developer on the agreement. Quinn said he hopes to put safeguards for the town in place.

“I’m hoping there will be more public input moving forward,” he added.

Walters said there is much work to be done before the Hamburg project goes through.

“There’s not going to be a shovel in the ground tomorrow,” he said.