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Senecas Set Up $1M Buffalo Creek Development Fund, Enhance City Neighborhoods Near Casino

The neighborhoods around Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo, New York will be revitalized with the help of a million dollar fund to upgrade infrastructure, lighting, landscaping and other amenities.

The funding was announced Sunday by Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter and Seneca Gaming Corp. Chair Karen Karsten.

“We are committed to being good neighbors and changing the perception of our casino as an island that does not fully benefit those interests around it,” Porter said.

The Seneca Gaming Corp. will provide the $1 million funding. The project emerged from a series of community meetings held late last year and in early 2011 between nation leaders and waterfront, Old First Ward, Erie County and Buffalo stakeholders. The money will be a resource for casino neighbors, nearby developers, residents and businesses.

“We met with scores of stakeholders, we listened, and now we are moving to lead a collaborative effort to help Buffalo’s waterfront, Old First Ward and Perry Street neighbors as a demonstration of that commitment. Talking was valuable, but we are now putting money and action behind the ideas we all know are so crucial,” Porter said. ,

The funds will remain under Seneca Gaming’s control, but will be spent in accordance with recommendations made by a working group comprised of Seneca Gaming, Seneca Nation, city, and community stakeholders. The group’s aim will be to use these dollars in a manner consistent with existing community plans.

The Seneca Gaming Corp. was chartered in August 2002 to manage the nation’s gaming operations. A gaming compact with New York State that same year gave Seneca the exclusive right to build and operate three Class III gaming facilities in western New York. The nation also owns the Seneca Niagara Casino and the Seneca Allegheny Casino.

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The unfinished Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino was originally to be developed as a $333 million casino with a luxury hotel and restaurants, but the project was stopped in 2008 because of the plummeting national and state economies. Porter and gaming officials have said they want to see on a smaller scale and designed to integrate with the surrounding community rather than be distinct from it. The nation is exploring redesign options.

“Much has changed since we first opened Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in 2007,” Karsten said. “There is energy and substantial momentum permeating the Inner Harbor area of downtown Buffalo. By working together with our partners and neighbors, Seneca Gaming Corp. wants to play a role in the continued revitalization of this historic area, which has been the Seneca Nation’s home for generations.”

The nation bought the nine acres of land where the casino is located in 2005. The land is now considered sovereign Seneca territory. The property is near the renovation of the Erie Canal terminus, the Old First Ward neighborhood, the Cobblestone District and the Buffalo River; and its neighbors include HSBC Arena and the Buffalo Sabres; HSBC’s back office building; the Buffalo News; the Buffalo Bisons’ Coca Cola Field; the soon-to-be redeveloped Donovan Office Building; and HSBC Center. In addition to the vibrant business community, the area has a residential mix that ranges from public housing to upscale lofts.

“Our meetings with the many constituents involved in making this part of the city go and grow clearly showed that there were ample good ideas on what to do, but that funding was needed to help make them happen to enhance the area,” Porter said. “I’m very pleased that Seneca Gaming and the Nation stepped up to invest a substantial sum in the future of our friends and neighbors nearest our casino.”

Porter said he will also ask the Nation’s Legislative Council to establish a Buffalo Creek Development Commission for purposes of facilitating forward movement on the projects and bringing together interested parties.

The commission, which will include Seneca Nation and Gaming officials, neighborhood representatives and community stakeholders, will accept applications for funding projects and improvements that will directly affect the area around the casino. Landscape and other improvement projects will be identified collaboratively. The nation or Seneca Gaming will take the lead, but allocations to local groups or the city are not precluded. The funding has no time limit, but Porter emphasized that he wants to see the money move projects forward that have been stalled or otherwise can’t get working capital.

“This effort is a microcosm of my administration’s philosophy that what’s good for the Seneca Nation is good for Western New York, and the reverse,” he said. “We have more than 5,000 employees and a $1.1 billion economy and we all want to see those numbers grow – to everyone’s mutual benefit. When we improve the look and feel and amenities of this Buffalo neighborhood, we’ll attract more jobs, more housing development, more entertainment options and everyone will benefit.”