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Five questions about the controversial Hamburg ice rink project

Hamburg has been talking about the need to replace or expand its ice rink at the Nike Base for at least 10 years, and residents in 2009 voted down a proposal to privatize the town's rink.

Discussions started again in 2015, and in 2016 the town signed an agreement with Sportstar Capital of Toronto to study the feasibility, prepare a financial analysis and acquire property for a sportsplex.

Here's five questions and answers about the proposed Hamburg sports complex.

1. What is the Hamburg project?

The Town of Hamburg and Sportstar are planning a $30 million complex with two ice rinks, multipurpose turf field, gym, snack bar, meeting rooms and sports training center. Sportstar would develop the building on a portion of the former South Shore golf course at Southwestern Boulevard and Camp Road, where David Homes is proposing a huge retail and residential development. The town would own the land and lease the building for 30 years, when it would gain full ownership. Rink Management of Virginia would manage the facility.

2. What about the other proposed ice rink project?

The Kaleta Group, with Liberatore Management Group and Ellicott Development, is planning a $15 million complex that would include two ice rinks and two multi-sport fields, and be home to the HITS Foundation, a charity founded by former Buffalo Sabres player Patrick Kaleta. It would be built at the former McKinley Park Inn on McKinley Parkway. The Hamburg Hawks Hockey Association, which would be a major tenant with its 650 families, decided to rent ice from the Kaleta Group because it would be less expensive and it could be associated with the HITS Foundation.

3. Will the district attorney's investigation affect the project?

The Erie County District Attorney's Office has confirmed it is looking into an allegation that a bribe was offered in connection with Sportstar's sports complex project. But the impact of the investigation on the public/private project is unclear. After news broke about the bribery probe, two councilmen said the town should slow down and see if the Kaleta Group project goes forward. Supervisor Steven Walters said the Sportstar project is a good one.

"We're going to continue to pursue something. Whether it's this project, whether the Kaletas are able to come through and build something, this community needs a project like this," Walters said.

4. How much town money would be spent?

No one knows for sure. If Sportstar's complex is not built, the town would have to pay Sportstar up to $145,000 for work already performed. If it is built, Sportstar would borrow $30 million, and provide a $500,000 contingency fund to help pay any deficits. When that money is gone, the town would pay the majority of any annual deficit. It also would receive the majority of profits from the complex.

There would be no town funds used in the Kaleta Group project.

5. Why is there controversy?

Some residents do not want to put taxpayer money on the line when a private group has proposed a similar facility at no cost to the taxpayers. Others question whether the Kaleta Group, which has tried unsuccessfully to build a hockey center for a number of years, will be successful in this venture in Hamburg.

Also, many of the discussions on the proposed public/private partnership have been behind closed doors, and there have been a number of details that have not been made public. While a location for the Sportstar complex has been pinpointed, the town still has not accepted Sportstar's feasibility study as complete, and drafts of the feasibility study have not included the impact of the proposed Kaleta Group complex.

Some believe the feasibility study should have been undertaken by a firm that does not have a stake in the outcome instead of by Sportstar. Others want a public referendum on the proposal, although one is not required by law.

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