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The Buffalo News (New York)


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 fieldhouse 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 - which includes former Buffalo Sabres player Patrick Kaleta; Kaleta's father, Tom; and Patrick Kaleta's HITS (Helping Individuals to Smile) Foundation - is 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.

"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, which 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, 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 J. Walters said of the Sportstar proposal. "Once we get a signed agreement, we will make an announcement of where it will be."

It is not yet known how having two double ice rink/fieldhouse complexes in Hamburg would affect each other.

Meanwhile, the area's largest town, Amherst, is rethinking whether it should continue to run its ice rinks because of the cost. Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein last week questioned whether the town should keep 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 that it could be turned over to a private operator, as Amherst did with its compost facility.

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

In Hamburg, at least one Town Board member believes that 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," Councilman Thomas M. Best Jr. said. "I don't want two facilities because I don't think it's feasible."

But plans continue for both groups.

"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.

In 2012, Sportstar developed the Youngs Sportplex, a fieldhouse that also has outdoor soccer fields, in Welland, Ont. The building has solar panels and sells power to the electric grid, according to the Sportstar website. Company President Marty Starkman has indicated that he would like to put solar panels on the roof of the Hamburg sportsplex to reduce electric bills and 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 its project hinges on the cooperation of the town. He said it does not need a rezoning but does need Planning Board approvals. He said his group is already "situated" with its tenants and will provide a facility without the town having any financial exposure.

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February 1, 2017


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