|By Sharon Linstedt, The Buffalo News,
N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 8, 2008 -- Construction has begun on the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino and Hotel project in downtown Buffalo.
"We're excited to be taking the first big step on what will be one of the largest private development projects in Buffalo's history," said Philip J. Pantano, Seneca Gaming Corp. spokesman.
The $333 million project's first phase, expected to take about a month, involves installing sheet piling around the perimeter of the Cobblestone District site. Two construction cranes and pile-driving crews began work this week at the south end of the nine-acre property.
Once the retaining walls are in place, the timetable calls for excavation to begin in the middle of next month. Erection of steel superstructures for the three-story casino building and 22-story luxury hotel
will start in August. A 2,500- vehicle parking ramp also will begin to take shape.
The Senecas, whose casino projects in Niagara Falls and Salamanca were completed under tight construction timetables, promise to open the Buffalo casino in spring 2010, with the hotel later that summer.
"We're on time with the schedule we've always talked about for the permanent facility, and we have a history of completing projects we set out to do," Pantano said.
Despite the Senecas' construction strategy, the project's future isn't 100 percent certain. A lawsuit by anti-casino groups is unlikely to be resolved for several months.
The anti-casino groups' lawsuit targets the federal Department of the Interior, which, it claims, made errors in granting the Senecas sovereign territory status for the site. Without hat status, gambling operations would be prohibited.
Ignoring the legal challenges won't make them go away, said Joel Rose, co-chairman of Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County.
"They are whistling through the graveyard. They are building something they may never be able to use. I hope they have a 'Plan B,' " Rose said.
Pantano, though, said the Seneca Nation and its gambling corporation have "numerous federal approvals" on their side.
"[The lawsuits] have been out there since this project was first announced in October 2005," he said. "But everything we've done so far, and everything we're going to do, is consistent with the numerous federal approvals that have been issued for this project."
Mayor Byron W. Brown, who hammered out an agreement with the Senecas on casino job guarantees for city residents, said he has no doubt the Senecas will build a high-quality gambling-hotel complex.
"Since coming into the City of Buffalo, they've done everything they said they would do. They've been extremely cooperative and completely honorable. I have no doubt they'll build a state-of-the-art facility [ that] will be a tremendous benefit to the local economy," said Brown, who has obtained Seneca promises to market the casino beyond Western New York.
The casino and hotel are expected to employ more than 1,000 people, while the local share of slot machine revenues might top $7 million annually.
Four months ago, the Senecas upped the ante on their Buffalo plans by adding a 206-suite hotel to the project, boosting the price tag to $333 million from $125 million.
The site, which will include a three-acre public park, is bounded by Michigan and South Park avenues, and Perry and Marvin streets. It is two blocks east of HSBC Arena.
Anti-casino legal efforts notwithstanding, Seneca Gaming also is pushing ahead with expanding the 6,000-square-foot, slots-only temporary casino it opened in July at Michigan and Perry.
The addition will nearly double the size of the facility and boost the slot machine count to 244 from 135. It is set to be up and running by early April.
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