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How would Erie County pay for a new convention center?

Proposal is $441 million
Posted at 5:27 PM, Feb 14, 2020

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Erie County is proposing to spend $441-million for a new convention center. But one day after unveiling the proposed plan some taxpayers weighing in on are worried about footing the bill.

7 Eyewitness News looks at out how the county would pay for this pricey project.

“Without significant investment from New York State, this doesn't happen?” asked Joseph Lorigo, majority leader of the Erie County Legislature. “That’s correct,” replied Maria Whyte, Deputy County Executive.

“What does the administration consider significant investment?” Lorigo continue to question.

Just hours after Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz revealed plans for a more than $400 million new convention center along Delaware Avenue Thursday, debate quickly began in the county legislature.

Republicans are asking how much taxpayers will have to foot the bill for this project.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz in his Rath Building office.

Poloncarz told 7 Eyewitness News Friday he’s not ready to talk about how much the county will ask the state to toss in.

Poloncarz said the county is also talking with potential private investors, but he could not elaborate.

“Erie County certainly would not be the largest contributor of this - we could not. If the county had to pay for the whole project itself, it would never happen. We do not have the ability to do that,” Poloncarz stated. “I could not add $440 million of debt to the county’s credit.”

Poloncarz insists a new convention center is needed to continue to grow Buffalo's economy. He said Buffalo can't even compete as it is now with Rochester and Syracuse for regional conventions.

“It’s an important part of the economy,” Poloncarz said.

Poloncarz said the current convention center is not winning enough business.

“But what people need to understand is this will have a continued drag on our local economy. We are not getting the conventions we used to get because of an old center,” Poloncarz responded.

But Bruce Fisher, Buffalo State College economics professor and former deputy county executive, says the whole project is a waste of money.

“You have to ask in Buffalo what a half billion dollar investment in anything is going to buy you in the long term,” Fisher remarked.

Fisher said the county won’t get a return on the investment.

“Conventions don’t come to medium size cities. Medium size cities don’t get convention business. It all goes to Orlando or Chicago, Las Vegas or New York City,” Fisher said.

Fisher argues it's more important improve the quality of life for residents especially transportation.

“Our public transportation system doesn't work very well. Other northern cities are taking a hint about the energy crisis and electrifying their buses,” Fisher suggest.

Republican Erie County lawmaker Ed Rath says it's time to fix the roads.

“Everyone gets jarred by our potholes and we need to fix these roads as soon as possible, so where are our priorities in Erie County, that has to be a big part of the decisions,” Rath said.

“If all people want to do is black top roads, well maybe they should run for a small town supervisor. That's not what we do in county government,” replied Poloncarz.