Patrick Kaleta thought he had found the perfect place to open a multisport complex for underserved youth in a long-vacant Walmart store on McKinley Parkway in Hamburg.
But the Buffalo Sabre, several family members and the foundation they created apparently have been thwarted – and they blame the Town of Hamburg.
They claim Hamburg improperly changed the zoning code to allow an Orchard Park company to relocate to the former Walmart store at McKinley and Southwestern Boulevard. The Hamburg Industrial Development Agency also granted the Orchard Park company, Worldwide Protective Products, property, mortgage and sales tax exemptions.
Kaleta and his Helping Individuals to Smile Foundation had plans to convert the former big box store to two NHL-sized rinks, a field house and pro shop.
And now the Kaleta group has filed a notice of claim, notifying the town it intends to sue.
The town used improper procedures to amend the code and helped one business over another, according to Terrence M. Connors and Patrick D. McNally, the attorneys for the Kaleta group.
“They unfairly secured the deal for one bidder, and pushed Pat Kaleta and the HITS Foundation out of the market. That’s not right – the foundation deserved better, and the people of Hamburg deserved better,” Connors said. “The government shouldn’t change the rules in the middle of the game.”
Hamburg denies the charge.
“We don’t feel it has merit,” Town Attorney Kenneth Farrell said of the potential lawsuit.
He noted that Walmart owns the property and made a private deal. The town merely clarified the zoning code, a routine action that is done periodically, he said.
The Kaleta group – which includes the Buffalo Sabres forward; his father, Tom; his uncle, Michael; Ron Zimmerman; the HITS Foundation; and Two 19 Sports Inc. – wanted to buy the former Walmart building, which has been vacant since Walmart opened a store on Southwestern Boulevard in Hamburg in 2009.
They envisioned two NHL-regulation ice rinks, an adjoining field house and indoor sports arena, locker rooms, a computer lab for children, pro shops, a coffee shop, and day services available to youth regardless of their financial means, according to court papers.
They had looked throughout the Southern Tier for a suitable facility, and in July 2012 identified the old Walmart building as a possible location.
But after they put in a purchase offer for $1.2 million, Walmart accepted an offer from Worldwide Protective Products of Orchard Park, according to court papers.
The Kaletas wrote a letter to the town Planning Department in December 2012, outlining the proposed project, which fit into the C-2 commercial zoning of the property, and also contacted the Building Department about zoning and building requirements.
The Town Board scheduled a public hearing Jan. 28 on a proposed change in the code to allow light manufacturing to take place in a C-2 zone, since it was not mentioned in the code.
The Kaleta group says it made a purchase offer the next day to buy the property for $1.2 million.
On Feb. 1, representatives of the group met with Supervisor Steven Walters to tell him of the proposal for ice rinks.
The hockey group learned that on Feb. 7, Walmart agreed to sell the 130,000-square-foot building to Worldwide Protective Products for $2 million, according to court papers.
But for Worldwide to move its 35 employees to the building, it apparently needed clarification of the zoning code. That came Feb. 11, when the Town Board approved the change in a resolution that was brought up for immediate consideration and not pre-filed the previous week. The town attorney said that was a routine item to clarify the code.
Kaleta, who grew up in Angola, created HITS in 2009 with the goal of opening a multisport complex to help low-income youth in the Southtowns and beyond.
Worldwide Protective Products, which leases a 30,000-square-foot building on North Benzing Road in Orchard Park, needed more space, but had no plans to move its operation to its North Carolina facility, said company Controller Laura Adams-Hirtreiter. The company – which puts finishing touches on industrial protective gloves – is headquartered in Erie County and will remain here, she said.
“We’ve outgrown our location here in Orchard Park,” she said.
The Hamburg IDA granted the company mortgage and sales tax exemptions, and a 10-year property tax abatement under its guidelines for adaptive reuse projects.
“We feel it’s a good project. There’s going to be job creation, and it’s filling an empty building,” said Michael J. Bartlett, executive director of the Hamburg IDA.
Adams-Hirtreiter said the company plans to use part of the old Walmart building, and hopes to move its manufacturing operations there in June or July. Administrative offices would move a couple of months later.
“We plan to add about 10 to 15 jobs,” she said.
Adams-Hirtreiter said she does not know if the purchase offer to Walmart was contingent on the zoning code being amended.
But Connors, the attorney for the Kaleta interests, said “our understanding is it was done without a contingency.”
The realtor said she has been asked not to comment on the deal, and a spokesman for Walmart could not be reached to comment.