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Bass Pro talks called live despite time lapse

Two weeks after a self-imposed deadline in talks with Bass Pro Shops, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. continues its efforts to reel in the prized catch.

Lead negotiator Larry Quinn said Wednesday that Bass Pro is "fully participating" in talks aimed at locating a 110,000-square-foot store on the historic Central Wharf site, in back of Memorial Auditorium, along the Buffalo River.

"We're trying to nail down a Central Wharf plan that works, and [Bass Pro] is working through that scenario on their end. We see an authentic re-creation of the wharf site as a viable option," Quinn said.

Quinn declined to disclose the likelihood of a deal or a potential timeline but did say he's optimistic a deal is within reach.

"This is a live, meaningful negotiation, and it's progressing well. We've been at this a long time, but I'm optimistic," he said.

On the table is a plan to build a multilevel store that mimics the style of the Central Wharf terminal building that stood on the site in the 1800s -- the heyday of the Erie Canal. When conversion of the idle Aud to a retail complex was still the focus of discussions, the harbor development panel planned to spend $35 million to gut and remediate the building. The total cost of the new Central Wharf plan has not been revealed.

The layout of the overall site has been redrawn several times in the past few weeks as planners have attempted to achieve a balance of public access and a workable commercial environment on the approximately five-acre inner harbor site.

In addition to the period-style Outdoor World store, the most recent rendition includes a small public plaza and a linear water feature. A Great Lakes/Erie Canal Museum and a 200-vehicle garage integrated with a group of small shops also are part of the site plan.

Early in discussions about the Central Wharf site as an alternative to the Aud, Bass Pro had raised concerns about parking and pushed for a combination of ramp and surface parking. Sources said no surface lots are in the blueprint.

Wednesday, members of the Buffalo Place board of directors raised questions about the Bass Pro planning process and how it fits with the ongoing, $49 million Erie Canal Harbor improvement project. The proposed Bass Pro site and related development would be situated within the harbor boundaries on land previously earmarked primarily for public access and historic interpretation.

Buffalo Place board member Steve Fitzmaurice said it appears the harbor development corporation is "giving away" the Central Wharf to Bass Pro with no regard to pre-existing plans.

"We are going from being ridiculous, to being desperate," Fitzmaurice said.

Buffalo Place has historically had a voice in waterfront planning efforts but has not been invited to weigh in since the state-created harbor panel took over development of the waterfront in August 2005.

Buffalo Place, which stages the popular Thursday in the Square summer concert series and Buffalo Rocks the Harbor events, had hoped to hold future events on the Central Wharf site.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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