State offers $80 million to attract Bass Pro to city
By SHARON LINSTEDT
News Staff Reporter
State economic development officials have formally baited the hook they hope will land a massive Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World store in Memorial Auditorium.
The Empire State Development Corp. has forwarded a written offer, totaling $80 million in incentives, to the Springfield, Mo., retailer for the proposed $105 million project.
Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, who started courting Bass Pro in 2001, said the incentive offer is "proof positive" that the long negotiation process is entering a new phase. "It means the level of seriousness is escalating," Masiello said. "Offers are now being discussed, and I'm more optimistic than ever that we'll be able to bring Bass Pro to Buffalo."
Others involved in efforts to woo Bass Pro portrayed the inducement offer as a "significant milestone."
"This is a big deal," one high-ranking development official said. "It means there's agreement on an outline for this project. It signals a serious commitment on all sides."
But the official also cautioned that the financial blueprint is still a work in progress and doesn't bind any of the parties to a final agreement or contract.
Bass Pro is looking to start construction in early 2005 and open in late 2006. The incentive package, which covers transformation of the mothballed Aud into a retail/entertainment complex, as well as related parking and transportation projects, contains these key elements:
$21 million from state funds that originally had been set aside to attract Adelphia Communications to the waterfront.
$12 million from unspecified state sources.
$30 million in federal transportation dollars.
$17 million from Erie County and the City of Buffalo, primarily in borrowing against future sales tax revenues to obtain seed money for the retailer.
The incentive package assumes it will cost approximately $64 million to gut the interior of the Aud and build a combination sporting goods store, restaurant, hotel and museum complex.
The package also assumes a roughly $30 million cost to demolish the Donovan State Office Building, relocate state workers and construct a new 1,000-vehicle parking ramp and intermodal transportation center.
Another $10 million, just announced Thursday by Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, would fund a new ramp to improve access to the site from the Niagara Thruway. The off-ramp will directly connect to the parking ramp and transportation center.
If those cost figures and the incentive numbers hold up, Bass Pro would have to invest $30 million in the Buffalo project.
Quinn, who has been instrumental in securing federal funds to support the project, said he hopes funding for the access ramp, along with $13.5 million in additional new federal funds for other waterfront roadway projects, will help seal the Bass Pro deal.
In Buffalo this week, Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., played it close to the vest when asked about the status of Bass Pro negotiations. The state's development chief expressed optimism but declined to provide details. "We're trying everything we possibly can," Gargano said. "The important thing is our talks haven't hit an end, they are ongoing."
Bass Pro spokesman Larry Whitely also dodged questions about specifics, saying only that the retailer "remains very interested" in Buffalo.
Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga, said the formal offer to Bass Pro makes the project, which has been talked about for nearly three years, "more concrete."
While the Western New York legislative delegation is "absolutely committed" to supporting the waterfront project, it has yet to sign off on any aspect, including use of the Adelphia money, the lawmaker said.
"We still haven't had a full briefing. We still don't have a full understanding of the costs or Bass Pro's role," Tokasz said. "I'm assuming that will happen shortly as part of the (state) budget process."