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Editorial: End of rink deal is a relief for Hamburg

Hamburg town residents should be relieved now that ambitions for a $30 million public-private sports complex have ended.

This was a deal shrouded in secrecy, prompting complaints. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office stepped in and over the summer announced that it found no evidence of bribery. That’s good to know, but doesn’t absolve the town of repsonsibility for the flawed process surrounding the deal.

The public was told there would be two ice rinks, a turf field, a gym, a snack bar and meeting rooms, but details of how that was to happen were hard to come by.

This much is well known: The town and Toronto developer Sportstar Capital signed an agreement “to study the feasibility, prepare a financial analysis and acquire property for a sportsplex.” The once-close relationship between the two entities has now grown cold. Town Board members grew nearly silent last month as they unanimously voted to end the contract. That seems to be fine by Sportstar, except for one point: money.

Mark Starkman, president and founder of the company, submitted a bill for $145,000, “as stipulated in his agreement with the town.” The tally, as reported in The News, includes $110,000 for a demographic analysis, $15,000 for a feasibility and financial analysis, and $20,000 to secure a letter of intent to buy the property.

There might be a hitch in getting paid, since the town never accepted the feasibility study as complete. Questions were raised about some statistics that were used and information Town Board members requested.

Board members were not the only ones interested in those details. Remember, the public was in the dark on this deal. That was a wholly unacceptable practice because they were talking about the possible commitment of taxpayer dollars on this venture.

The idea was to develop the complex on a portion of the former South Shore golf course at Southwestern Boulevard and Camp Road. It’s not going to happen, and that may be for the best.

Moving to the forefront is what any municipality should covet, a private venture with a notable personality attached. Former Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta is part of a group proposing to build twin ice rinks and a multisport facility at the site of the former McKinley Park Inn.

His star power and work with his HITS foundation may have helped attract one the largest potential users of any new multisport facility, the Hamburg Hawks Hockey Association. Starkman, expressing frustration with losing the Hawks, said, “In the end, I think the user groups want Kaleta to build one, so let him build.”

Kaleta’s group and the HITS Foundation have indicated all systems are go, but they have not been back to the town with additional information since April. With Sportstar out of the picture, the group should begin moving ahead in a public way.

The public-private partnership with Sportstar that should have been better vetted by the public is finished. Residents won’t be on the hook for a deal in which they had little input. That’s good. Now maybe the town and the Kaleta group should talk.

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