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In Hamburg, dueling rinks carry different risks for taxpayers

As Hamburg prepares to announce the site for a proposed public-private ice rink complex, a private group is charging ahead with its plans for a similar facility in the town that it says won't cost taxpayers a dime.

The Town of Hamburg is working with Sportstar of Toronto to develop a sportsplex with two ice rinks, a field house and other amenities. It is widely believed that the $25 million to $30 million complex will be built along the Camp Road corridor, but the town and Sportstar have not yet announced where.

Meanwhile, the Kaleta Group, including hockey player Patrick Kaleta and his father, Tom, and Patrick Kaleta's HITS (Helping Individuals to Smile) Foundation, are working with Liberatore Management Group and Ellicott Development to establish a competing facility with two rinks, two soccer fields, and other workout and entertainment areas. It is believed it would be located along McKinley Parkway.

Former Buffalo Sabre Patrick Kaleta is part of a group proposing to spend $15 million to build a twin ice rink complex in the Town of Hamburg. He's shown during a Sabres game in 2013. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

"We are moving forward on our project at zero cost to the taxpayers," Tom Kaleta said.

Kaleta said the partners would invest about $15 million "of private funds" for the 186,000 square-foot facility. The facility will be home to HITS, a learning center and educational rooms, he said.

There appears to be more potential risk for taxpayers in the public-private partnership negotiated by the town with Sportstar. Sportstar will secure a letter of intent to acquire the property. If the facility loses money after it opens, the town would have to help make up the deficit, town officials have said. The details of that are unclear. After 25 or 30 years, the town would own the facility, according to information provided by the town last year.

"We’re all pretty much ready to go," Hamburg Supervisor Steven Walters said of the Sportstar proposal. "Once we get a signed agreement, we will make an announcement of where it will be."

It's not known how two double ice rink/field house complexes in Hamburg would affect each other.

Meanwhile, the area's largest town, Amherst, is rethinking running its ice rinks because of the cost.

Amherst Supervisor Barry Weinstein last week questioned whether the town should continue operating its Northtown Center, with four ice pads. He said the complex is losing $700,000 to $800,000 a year, which is about how much the interest and principal on the loan costs. He suggested it could be turned over to the private sector to run, as Amherst did with its compost facility.

"No one is closing the ice rink facility," Weinstein said, but he said new management should be able to operate the complex just as well as the municipality.

In Hamburg, at least one councilman believes there may not be enough business for two complexes with a total of four rinks to succeed.

"I'm in support of a sports complex in Hamburg. I am not in support of two," Town Councilman Tom Best Jr. said. "I don’t want two facilities because I don’t think it's feasible."

But plans continue for both groups.

Related: 8 possible locations for Sportstar complex

"The hope is sometime to get a shovel in the ground this construction season," Walters said, adding that it is hoped the town facility will be up and running for the 2018 hockey season.

Sportstar developed the Youngs Sportplex in Welland, Ont., an indoor field house with outdoor soccer fields, in 2012. The building has solar panels and sells power to the electric grid, according to the Sportstar website. Company president Marty Starkman has indicated he would like to put solar panels on the roof of the Hamburg sportsplex to reduce electrical bills, and to make the facility "as green as possible."

Walters said a meeting with the public will be scheduled soon.

Tom Kaleta said his group looks forward to having a "shovel in the ground sooner rather than later." But he said their project hinges on the cooperation of the town. He said it does not need a rezoning, but it does need Planning Board approvals.

He said his group is already "situated" with its tenants, and will provide a facility with no financial exposure to the town.

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