Downtown's future is now primarily in the hands of developer David L. Ulrich.
Ending a saga dating from the mid-1970s, the Common Council on Wednesday unanimously approved the sale of the vacant South Block at 80 Main St. and an adjoining municipal parking lot to Ulrich for $1.
It also approved a 50-year, $1-a-year lease of another parking lot to Ulrich, who said he will construct a new, enclosed farmers' market there. He also was given the right to construct other buildings on that lot, which is bounded by Walnut, Locust and Elm streets.
The crowd of about 70 attending a public hearing Wednesday was overwhelmingly in Ulrich's corner. It applauded loudly when he declared, "I guarantee you that I'm going to reinforce the faith you've had in me by delivering you a first-class project, and I further guarantee it's not going to take me 30 years to do it."
Almost the only discordant note was sounded by Randolph C. Oppenheimer, attorney for rival developer and former South Block owner Elmer A. Granchelli.
"The Common Council should be wary of the so-called silver bullet, the white knight who comes in with the answer to everything," Oppenheimer said.
He said that there were many legal questions about the deal and concerns about parking availability now that Ulrich will control two downtown lots.
The crowd clapped when Mayor Michael W. Tucker replied, "We've been waiting to do something with this property for 28 years. I don't think we're rushing into anything. I think we're 28 years overdue. You ask us to take a step back. We've taken a step back for 28 years. This city is moving on. We're picking up the ball and running with it."
Earlier Wednesday, State Supreme Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. rejected Oppenheimer's challenge to the legality of the city's plans to give Ulrich part of a one-way street separating the South Block from the parking lot he is buying.
"They can do what they want. If it impacts negatively on your client, bring a claim," Kloch told Oppenheimer, inviting Granchelli to seek damages if the abandonment of the street, Heritage Court, hurts the tenants in buildings on either side of the South Block that are owned by Granchelli.
Kloch said, "There's going to be a $4 million project dropped in downtown Lockport. How can that not help that town? How can that not help every property owner in it?"
In leasing the Walnut-Locust-Elm lot to Ulrich, the Council ignored a $25,000 purchase offer for the lot announced during the public hearing by Thomas Milano, whose family owns a submarine sandwich shop fronting on that parking lot.
Daniel A. Spitzer, a lawyer hired by the city, said that the lease guarantees the lot will always have some public parking but that it does not say how much.
The city is giving Ulrich at least $950,000 toward the estimated $4 million cost of the project. It comes from $500,000 in damages the city collected in a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Granchelli; $250,000 the city has collected over the years from its "bed tax" on hotel and motel bills; and a $200,000 state grant arranged by State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda.
The city also agreed to apply for a $200,000 state Small Cities grant, which would go to Ulrich. He would pay the rest of the cost, about $3 million.
He said construction on the South Block would start soon and be completed by next summer, while the work on the farmers' market would not start until next spring.