Erie County lawmakers may vote next week whether to increase the cost of a feasibility study for a possible future convention center. On Thursday, the Legislature's Economic Development Committee approved a proposed contract amendment that would increase the county's commitment from the original $149,900 up to $215,000.
During Thursday's committee meeting Kenneth Swanekamp, the county's Director of Business Assistance, explained that the Chicago-based firm hired for the study, HVS, explained that the additional $65,000 was needed because the study has broadened to include three new potential sites for a replacement for the existing Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
He did not disclose those locations during the hearing, drawing questions and criticism from Legislator Joseph Lorigo, who expressed his concerns about "throwing good money at bad money."
"They will come out at the end. But we just want to be able to take a good deep look without having people swooping in and trying to dial up the price on something before we're at that point," Swanekamp explained.
Committee members voted to approve the request. The full legislature's next meeting is Thursday, February 1.
Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw attended the committee session. Last summer, he suggested the county should not be spending large sums of money on a study until it knows it can secure the money to build a new facility. He renewed that opinion Thursday.
"The convention center is a dump. It's outdated and we absolutely, positively need a new convention center," Mychajliw said. "But at this point in time, the county does not have $200 million to build a new one. So, why on earth would these politicians want to spend $215,000 studying something that, in this point of time, will never come to fruition?
Democrats sitting on the committee say they, too, have questions but recognize that given a history of the region making hasty decisions they came to later regret, they want to be sure their decision on a new convention center is the right one.
Legislature Chairman Peter Savage said deciding on a new convention center is "generational" and those making it need to be as informed as possible. That includes finding out what opportunities Buffalo could draw with a new facility, what markets they are most likely to compete against, what amenities are essential and what Buffalo and Erie County can really afford.
"That's all part of the feasibility study, to determine what the cost would be and would it be able to be funded, " Savage said. "What's happened in the past, far too often, decisions were made far too hastily without the data that was needed, without the proper research and identifying what was the best use of either a current site of other potential sites."