Meetings Will Determine HarborCenter Future

February 19, 2013 Updated Feb 19, 2013 at 12:28 PM EDT

By James Fink, Buffalo Business First

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Meetings Will Determine HarborCenter Future

February 19, 2013 Updated Feb 19, 2013 at 12:28 PM EDT

After months of planning, the construction schedule for the HarborCenter project hinges on the outcome of three separate meetings that will take place Tuesday.

Within a matter of hours, Sabres officials will be bring the proposed $170 million, twin-ice pad/hotel project - set for downtown's Webster Block - to three key public sector agencies. If approved by all three, construction could start by early March 1.

"We are hopeful that we will clear all of the hurdles," said Michael Gilbert, Sabres' spokesman.

The Sabres will be presenting HarborCenter plans to:

• The Erie County Industrial Development Agency, whose directors are considering approving an incentive package for the project.

While Sabres' owner Terry Pegula, who bought the team two years ago, is underwriting HarborCenter's development costs, the IDA incentives - mostly sales and mortgage tax breaks - are considered crucial.

The IDA's policy committee approved the project last week, although Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who is also an IDA director, has questions about the incentives being offered.

HarborCenter is one of four high profile projects on the IDA agenda.

• The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. directors must also approve the HarborCenter project because the Webster Block - a two-acre, surface parking lot across from First Niagara Center - sits in a portion of the 20-acre Canalside District, where the state agency has final say.

The ECHDC is expected to approve the project, considered a key development for Canalside and downtown Buffalo. HarborCenter is the largest, private sector-funded project in Buffalo's history.

• The Buffalo Common Council, Tuesday afternoon, must also approve the sale of the Webster Block, following a mandated public hearing.

The Sabres have offered to pay $2.2 million for the property, roughly $200,000 more than its assessed value.

"It will be a busy day," Gilbert said.

Besides the twin rinks, designed for amateur, youth and collegiate-level hockey as well as figure skating, HarborCenter will feature a 200-room hotel, sports-themed restaurant and some limited retail. It also includes 843 parking spaces dedicated not only for the building, but for events at the First Niagara Center, Canalside and downtown workers.

Officials say the complex may attract more than 500,000 people annually and be used to host amateur hockey and collegiate hockey tournaments.

"it is a solid project," Gilbert said.

Pending the outcome of the three hearings, construction could start by early March. The rinks are scheduled to open by September 2014 and the hotel by May 2015.

And, one other thing, the Sabres host the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday night.

"Did I mention, it will be a very busy day for us," Gilbert said, again.

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