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The future of the Genesee Country Mall will remain in limbo for at least another 2 1/2 weeks following a preliminary hearing Thursday in state Supreme Court.

The City of Batavia, which owns the pedestrian concourses in the 23-year-old downtown structure, wants to let The Benchmark Group of Amherst replace the mall with a five-building store, office and theater complex topped by a new J.C. Penney store.

Eleven mall merchants, owners of individual properties, want a preliminary injunction to halt demolition plans. They are also suing the city for an undisclosed sum, claiming the city has defaulted on its contract with the merchants and has neglected maintenance.

Justice Edward A. Rath Jr., after a four-hour hearing with two witnesses, adjourned the matter until 2 p.m. on Sept. 27.

Meanwhile, the city is reportedly ready to grant Benchmark a six-week extension on its Sept. 14 deadline to reach agreement with mall owners on the sale of property. The council stipulated that the development firm obtain 75 percent approval. So far, officials say, only a few owners have accepted Benchmark's offer.

In court Thursday, Allan R. Lipman of Williamsville, attorney for the mall litigants, said the city has neglected the mall, "forcing people to leave." He accused the city of defaulting on its contractual obligations while the store owners "maintain their property in Class A shape."

City Attorney Kevin D. Earl said the city can no longer be bound by a 26-year-old contract. He described the Main Street building as "not a viable mall but instead one that looks like a medium security prison." He said the city has not abandoned the mall or downtown, citing a new Business Improvement District, and new lighting and new trees.

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