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AFTER 30 YEARS, THE SOUTH BLOCK BATTLE ENDS

The city appears to have won a final victory Wednesday in the South Block battle.

A five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court unanimously awarded the city all the damages it sought from Elmer A. Granchelli, former owner of the vacant lot in the heart of downtown Lockport.

That's $344,100 plus interest, which Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said should bring the total award to more than $529,000.

Ottaviano said that because the ruling was unanimous, Granchelli has no automatic right to appeal. He said the developer can ask the state Court of Appeals for permission to appeal, but that is seldom granted.

The ruling seems to give the city firm control of the 43,319-square-foot lot on Main Street between Pine and Locust streets. It has been vacant since urban renewal programs led to the demolition of the once-thriving stores there nearly three decades ago.

There is still a case pending over an old mortgage lien on the property held by a Granchelli-controlled company, but Ottaviano said, "The mortgage does not concern me at this time."

Ottaviano said he did not want to tip his hand but implied he has some legal steps in mind to make the lien go away.

"We'd like to see a contractor signed (to develop the property) by the end of summer," said Mayor Thomas C. Sullivan.

He said the city's plan is to sell the lot to someone who will construct a commercial development on it. That is something the city has sought through more than 25 years of wrangling.

"We'll put an end to that part of the South Block's history," Sullivan vowed.

Granchelli was supposed to build a retail mall on the site, but he never did. In 1989, the city tried to force him to act by signing a contract with him that gave the city the right to buy the lot if Granchelli failed to build something by May 1, 1995.

Granchelli and the city signed a supplemental agreement in 1994, in which the city responded to Granchelli's view that it would be easier to have a viable development on the lot if it were bigger.

The city agreed to buy two adjacent stores from Granchelli for $255,000. The city spent $84,913 to tear them down, then handed the land back to Granchelli. When no building went up by May 1995, the city sued Granchelli.

In December 1997, then-State Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline M. Koshian ruled that the city owned the lot, as long as it paid Granchelli $64,978 for it. She ordered Granchelli to pay the city the $84,913 demolition expense, but denied the claim for the $255,000.

That ruling left both sides wanting to appeal. The city wanted the full amount of damages; Granchelli wanted all damages wiped out. The appellate court Wednesday gave the city the $255,000 plus interest, and threw in another $4,186.46 for site preparation costs.

"You'll see something done (on the block) within a year," Ottaviano said.

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