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Study recommends Delaware Avenue site for new $440 million convention center

A parcel along Delaware Avenue is the preferred site for a new convention center, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced Thursday.

A study examining the feasibility and probable cost of potential sites for the new construction has determined the "Delaware site" next to the Statler hotel and bordered by Franklin, West Mohawk, and West Huron streets is the best choice for the major project, which is estimated to cost $440 million.

The county executive said the Delaware site provides the greatest value for the least cost. It would allow a return to Buffalo’s radial street grid through the reopening of Genesee Street downtown to Pearl Street and takes advantage of existing hotels, restaurants and commercial activity "while also preserving the integrity of the historic Statler, which would be poised for investment as a functioning hotel and tourism center."

The existing convention center, which has been deemed "functionally obsolete," would be razed, under the plan.

“This facility, as it has been noted, is functionally obsolete and outdated. And if we didn’t do anything, just to keep this facility going in the future, we’d have to spend tens of millions of dollars,” Poloncarz said, at a news conference.

Other sites considered in Erie County’s Phase II Convention Center Study included a “Statler site” incorporating the historic Statler Hotel and utilizing the existing convention center and an “HSBC site” adjacent to the existing HSBC Building and bordered by Perry Street, Scott Street and Michigan Avenue.

“The Delaware site is the option that presents the best return on investment and offers the most exciting, transformative vision for Buffalo. It offers the proper amounts of space needed for the many functions of a modern Convention Center, it is in close proximity to existing hotels and restaurants, and it is right next door to the historic Statler hotel, which will now attract more attention and investment as it returns to its former glory. This is a visionary plan that will transform the City and the county,” said Poloncarz, in a statement.

The preliminary estimated cost includes site acquisition fees, demolition of the current convention center and construction of the new one, construction of a new parking ramp on the current convention center site, and the moving of the historic Hotchkiss House to a new nearby location. 

“The proposed recommendations will allow for Buffalo to...bring more meetings and events to Buffalo, bring more people to Buffalo, put more heads in our Buffalo beds, bring more people to the doors of Buffalo’s restaurants, nightlife and cultural attractions, and have a larger impact on Buffalo’s economy," said Visit Buffalo Niagara CEO Patrick Kaler.

The preliminary cost estimate for the HSBC site was approximately $606 million. The estimate for the Statler site, which did not meet the minimum size requirements, was $438 million.

Now that a site has been identified, securing funding for the major project comes next, Poloncarz said. The Erie County Legislature will also have to sign off on the plan.

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw said his own independent study shows interest from the building's construction would be over $250 million, bringing the total cost to almost $700 million.

“This costs money, period. The county executive has zero specifics on who is going to pay for it, and at the end of the day, taxpayers will,” Mychajliw said.

The taxpayer burden is also on the mind of Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Joe Lorigo, who says the building of a new convention center could coincide with plans for New Era Field.

“The last lease included $40 million in taxpayer investment and the new one, I’m sure, is going to include something like that. So, in addition to debt service that we would have to pay on a new convention center borrowing, we’d also have to pay money on anything that we’re going to be doing for renovating the Bills stadium.”

The county executive said he would like to see construction begin in 2023. The project would take roughly three years to complete.

A public comment period on the study and its findings will be open for 30 days on the county's website.