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Reaction is mixed as Hamburg unveils plans for $30 million sports complex

Hamburg town officials revealed preliminary drawings for a proposed $30 million sports facility on Thursday evening.

The reaction from residents was mixed.

"Fantastic!" Laura Reynolds said of the proposal for the town to enter into a public-private partnership for a multi-use facility with twin rinks, field house and indoor court space on a section of the old South Shore Golf Club. "I love the renderings. I think it's the only way to go."

But others were not so sure – and questioned how much taxpayer money might be needed to underwrite the facility over the 30-year contract with the developer, Sportstar Capital of Toronto.

"There should be a public referendum," said Mark Lorquet. "It should not be up to three people."

He said the three-member Town Board also should have had the proposal from the private Kaleta Group, which has proposed building a double rink sports facility on McKinley Parkway, on hand for Thursday's forum.

A handful of people holding signs demanding a referendum greeted residents as they drove into the parking lot of the Senior Community Center on Southwestern Boulevard for the open house.

"This project is being pushed through by two members of the Town Board without any public involvement," said Nick Budney, who was holding a sign.

Town Board Member Tom Best Jr. said he was in favor of a referendum on the sports facility. Hamburg voters in a referendum in 2009 rejected a proposal that would have expanded the town's ice arena to a two-rink sports facility.

David Homes, which is planning a multi-use community on the 155-acre former golf course, would donate 20 acres to the town for the facility. Sportstar Capital would build the building, and put up the $30 million it will cost, said its president, Martin Starkman.
At 200,000 square feet, it would be the largest facility his company has developed, Starkman said. Rink Management Services would manage the facility.

"We would lease back to the town," Starkman said, of the building.

A number of residents said they were concerned over how much town money might be involved.

A rendering of Sportstar's proposed multisport complex in Hamburg, N.Y. The Town of Hamburg unveiled the rendering on Thursday, May 18, 2017 at a public hearing about the public/private project.

Town Supervisor Steven Walters said a contingency fund will be set up to cover any losses the complex might have in its beginning years.

Starkman said that fund would be $500,000. After the contingency is gone, if there are losses, the town would be responsible to pay the major portion of the losses, Walters said.

But the town also would realize the majority of any profits, he said.

"We've never said there is no risk to the town," Walters said.

But, Walters said, studies on the facility were all positive. The town has asked for more backup information to be included in the feasibility study, and when it is completed, the study will be posted on the town website, he said.

If the rink loses money, the management fee would be reduced, he said. The town will benefit by having a new sports complex that will have a positive economic spin off to other town businesses, he said.

"I'm excited, because I think it's needed," said Joseph Gunning, a member of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce. "To me, there's obviously a need for it."

Walters said the feasibility study does not address the possible competing facility proposed by the Kaleta Group and the HITS Foundation, run by former Buffalo Sabre Patrick Kaleta. He said "you can't speculate" on who might build another facility. The Kaleta Group has submitted plans to the town.

Walters also noted that the town's current ice rink at the Nike Base costs the town $50,000 a year, and needs $1. 5 million in repairs. Once the new facility is built, the Nike Base building would remain but would not have an ice rink, and the town would save $50,000 a year, he said.

Walters said the comments generated by the three-hour open house Thursday would be reviewed by the Town Board.

If the project goes forward, architectural plans would be drawn up. Starkman said he plans to break ground this fall, and open the facility in October 2018.

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