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ARENA ARCHITECT'S FIRING TIED TO MONEY DISPUTE

not deadline pressure -- led to the firing of a Grand Island firm as architect of the ice-skating arena project in Amherst, company officials said. The Cannon firm was booted as the architect of the town's $18.3 million ice rink project by the project's developer, Edgewater Ventures of Syracuse. A Minnesota firm replaced Cannon.

"From our standpoint, what really happened is that Edgewater backed away from our original understanding on compensation, refused to honor our request for a reasonable fee, offered little more than half the sum considered normal for a project of this scope, and then refused to negotiate reasonable contract revisions," said Mark Mendell, president of Cannon. "We think we were used to help win the work and then set up for dismissal by Edgewater."

Mendell's remarks Tuesday came as the Amherst Industrial Development Agency found buyers for $17.9 million in tax-exempt bonds that will finance the bulk of the project. The board at a special session Tuesday approved sale of the bonds without dissent. Borrowing costs will total $16.1 million over 25 years. The total cost of the project, including borrowing costs, will be $34 million, said James Allen, executive director of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency.

Under the plan, revenue to repay the debt would come largely from arena fees.

Edgewater's plan calls for building a four-rink arena at the Audubon Recreation Center off Millersport Highway and Maple Road across from the University at Buffalo North Campus. The arena would include a food court, restaurant, arcade, retail store featuring skating gear, locker rooms and an exercise room for skaters and their parents.

John E. "Skip" Cerio, managing partner for Edgewater Ventures, said Key Bank replaced M&T as provider of letter of credit for the project. "Key came through with the best proposal first. Timing was an issue here."

Cerio would not comment on Cannon's dismissal.

Last week, officials said Edgewater switched architects when Cannon decided it couldn't meet the September 1998 deadline. Cannon disputed that report.

"Cannon has always been ready, willing and able to complete its work on this project on a timely basis and at no time advised the developer that it could not meet the September 1998 deadline," said Patrick Maxwell, a lawyer for Cannon.

Edgewater officials told Cannon that Independent Consulting Engineers of Minnesota would create a new design for the ice rink, Cannon officials said.

Supervisor Susan J. Grelick called the dispute "a matter between Edgewater and their architects."

"We would hope they would not deviate from the original concept. As far as details about the design, we never had any to begin with," Ms. Grelick said.

Amherst Council Member Thomas A. Loughran, a critic of the Edgewater plan, said the switch troubles him.

"It's a bait and switch," Loughran said. "Edgewater came in and said this is the best team. They made their presentation to the board. It was all a done deal. We were assured that Cannon was world-renowned."

Many of Cannon's top executives live in Amherst, including Mendell. Money for designing the ice rink arena will now be paid to a Minnesota firm, Loughran said.

"We're supposed to be creating economic development in Amherst, not Minnesota," he said. He also questioned whether the lower-paid Minnesota firm would match the work promised by Cannon.

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