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$50 million sports arena becomes political football in Tonawanda mayor's race

A plan to build a $50 million multi-use arena at Spaulding Park Commerce Center has  emerged as a contentious issue in the City of Tonawanda mayoral race, with both candidates arguing about the validity of the plan.

Mayor Rick Davis says the arena project is dead. His Republican opponent,  Third Ward Councilman Tim Toth, says it's still a viable idea.

Toth said Rick Kozuback of the Arizona-based International Coliseums Co., which had expressed interested in developing the 5,000- to 6,000-seat arena, cannot fund the project but remains interested in the project. So the city needs to find another source to buy the property and privately run the facility, he said.

"He's not the money guy," Toth said of Kozuback. "We are working with someone locally to find that investor."

Davis and Toth agree that the city is not in a position to fund the project or give away the land at the 40-acre site, which once was home to Spaulding Fibre.

If the city can't fund it, who will be the major investor in the project?

"We reached out to a couple of places," said Toth of his search for investors.

He said the city needs to get a feasibility study done first, and said he is trying to identify a non-city entity to fund a $45,000.

Toth and former Buffalo Sabres Hall of Famer Don Luce of Don Luce Hockey, who is working with Toth to bring two main tenants to the proposed center - Niagara University Hockey and an Ontario Hockey League team, held a news conference outside of the shovel-ready, vacant property on Thursday.

Luce said hockey would only be part of the facility, which would have two ice sheets, a synthetic ice pad for year-round outdoor use, as well as fields for indoor and outdoor soccer, baseball, softball, basketball, shops and restaurants.

"I think this is a great project for the area, especially for the kids in the area and we are looking for some type of support," said Luce.

Davis called Toth's news conference "smoke and mirrors with (Toth) riding in on a white horse," rather than discussing the project with him and the rest of the Council. He also questioned why Toth wasn't taking advantage of a grants writer employed by the city.

"I'd love for the city to have something like this to draw people into our city, but it has got to make sense," said Davis, who has been working with a marketing firm to look for other business investments for the property.

Toth said he has been working solo on the project for the past 18 months, not discussing the project with his fellow council members and not in any public meetings, because he felt he had a better working relationship with Kozuback and Luce than the mayor does.

According to Davis, Kozuback's former company, Global Entertainment Corp., which built multi-use centers similar to the one proposed in the City of Tonawanda, went bankrupt, leaving several small communities in the lurch. A 2011 article in the New York Times noted that these communities were left with multi-use centers that were bankrupting their communities.

Toth said the recession that was to blame, not Kozuback.

Second Ward Councilor Jackie Smilinich attended Toth's news conference on Thursday, and questioned Toth about why the project was being done behind-the-scenes, then presented to the media during an election campaign, rather than with other council members. She said she was disappointed.

"If (Kozuback) is that interested why hasn't he tried to reach out to us. We have special meetings all the time," said Smilinich. "It's been stagnant and most people thought this idea was dead."

Toth said people have been misinformed that the plan was dead.

Luce said they are working on getting all the information they need before they bring the idea to the Common Council.

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