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Developer proposes 'multi-purpose events center' in Tonawanda

An Arizona-based developer has expressed interest in building a multi-purpose events center on a vacant 47-acre site in the City of Tonawanda, officials said Tuesday.

International Coliseums Company of Scottsdale, Ariz., has proposed a 5,000- to 6,000-seat facility that could accommodate hockey, high school sports, concerts, trade shows, conferences and other uses, said Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Toth.

The land is the shovel-ready Spaulding Commerce Park, formerly the Spaulding Fibre manufacturing site, which underwent a $20.6 million cleanup over 8 ½ years that was completed in 2012.

"It could be an economic generator," Toth said. "The important thing is we have someone with an interest in the area and the property. It's something that could potentially be a big tax generator for the city."

Still, Toth and Mayor Rick Davis cautioned that the proposal is still in its very early stages, with Davis saying the idea is in the "first mile of a marathon."

"It's a huge task," Toth said. "This isn't something that's going to get done overnight. It's not going to be done in another year or two. It's something that's going to be a big undertaking on behalf of International Coliseums Company, the city and, probably, the county and the state."

Toth presented a "letter of understanding" to the Common Council on Tuesday, and the council agreed to have the city attorney review it before the council's next meeting. If city officials sign the letter, the developer would bring in its architect for an economic feasibility study and preliminary designs.

In addition to the 120,000-square-foot events center, the project could include 20,000 square feet of space for community events, a conference center hotel, retail and restaurants.

The hope is that the events center would become the home of an Ontario Hockey League franchise and an NCAA Division I hockey team, Toth said. Don Luce Hockey would lead those efforts, according to the letter. The events center could also host religious gatherings, festivals, rodeos and equestrian events.

The city has had difficulty attracting tenants to the city-owned site, which is close to residential neighborhoods and has zoning restrictions in place. Some prospective tenants included an automobile recycling facility and a dirt bike track, but were deemed a bad fit, Davis said.

"It would be a huge dream realized to get something on that site," Toth said. "The interest has been there but they've been little 'mom and pop' places that I just don't think are going to be the economic driving force that we're looking for."

Toth said Rick Kozuback, president of International Coliseums Company, first visited the site seven years ago, before the industrial property was remediated. After he was elected last year, Toth said he reached out to Kozuback and explained the site was available, with underground utilities and roads in place. Kozuback visited the site again in early spring and met with Toth and Davis.

Toth said Kozuback liked that the site is close to major interstate highways, as well as Canada, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

"He feels it's a good location and could be a good economic generator for the area," Toth said. "They have a good track record of building these types of places all across the country."

ICC just completed a similar events center in Racine, Wisc., which is expected to have a $330 million impact over 30 years and create several hundred full-time jobs, Toth said.

"It's nice to have excitement generated from a project of this magnitude," Toth said. "It has the potential to be a game-changer for the city. Anything of this size has the potential to be a game-changer."

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