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New pact offered to develop site near casino Company denies intimidating owners

City Council members said Monday they will consider a new contract with a company that has the rights to develop a 142-acre tract near the Seneca Niagara Casino.

Those lawmakers also downplayed the complaints of property owners who told The Buffalo News that the company, Niagara Falls Redevelopment, has used harassment and intimidation as it has tried to buy parcels in the tract.

"I think when you're dealing with properties you're going to have some complaints, no matter what," said Councilman Chris A. Robins.

Officials with the redevelopment company deny the allegations, and pointed to the company's documented practice of paying well above the assessed value for the properties purchased so far.

Councilman Lewis Rotella said he would like to hear an explanation from the company, but all five councilmen said they've never received complaints about Niagara Falls Redevelopment.

The News reported Sunday that some residents who still own property in the development tract say debris has been dumped on their land, a company official has been involved in shouting matches with them and that real estate representatives have told them their properties could be taken through eminent domain.

Acting Corporation Counsel Damon DeCastro said any property owners who feel they are being intimidated should contact City Hall, and Council Chairman Robert Anderson Jr. said those issues should be directed to the courts.

Niagara Falls Redevelopment is the firm with a 2003 city agreement that gives it the right to develop a large swath bounded by John B. Daly Boulevard, Niagara Street, Portage Road and Buffalo Avenue.

DeCastro told the Council last week that NFR had delivered a proposed new project development agreement that it wants to replace its current contract. He said the new contract would be "shorter, more concise and specific as to what everyone's responsibilities are."

The redevelopment company's attorney, John P. Bartolomei, said Monday that the new agreement will "be specific as to what's left to do."

Under the terms of NFR's 2003 contract with the city, which replaced a 1997 agreement, it must complete unspecified development projects worth at least $110 million by the end of this year.

So far, NFR has purchased about 440 pieces of property on the development tract and has demolished many dilapidated buildings and cleared much of the land. About 100 properties in the tract are owned by others, a company official said.

The company laid the foundation for a planned 25,000-square-foot entertainment complex at Tenth and Falls streets on a former city playground in August 2005. However, nothing has been built on the foundation and no prospective tenants have been announced.

Council members said they are disappointed no new buildings have been constructed.

DeCastro said that although the developer has not asked the city to do very much, it was expected that new construction would have been completed during the past 10 years.

"We're in favor of a new contract," DeCastro said. "It doesn't appear they followed the old contract, and the enforcement mechanisms [in a new agreement] will be such that I can enforce them."

DeCastro said there are no specific development projects described in the new contract, and he would prefer that some be included. Many Council members agreed they want the contract to give details of planned development.

Rotella said he has met with redevelopment company officials on several occasions, and told them he wants to see construction.

"I said, I don't care if you build a warehouse but build something, some kind of solid development," Rotella said he told company officials. "I don't care if it's a mall, a splash park, but something significant the Council can sink their teeth into."

Anderson said he met for three hours last week with company representatives, including NFR President Anthony Bergamo, who Anderson said promised him new construction would come soon.

"He promised me, 'Within 90 days we will be moving forward in the city,' " Anderson said. "They're going to start doing what they promised with development, building malls, et cetera.

"Mr. Bergamo gave me his word and I believe him," the Council president added.

Bartolomei said the new agreement would clean up the current contract.

"There's nothing in the new agreement that isn't in the old agreement," he said. "It's to eliminate any issues on who's going to do what and what has been done."

Bartolomei said the contract includes details of planned development but declined to comment further.


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