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Gioia defends efforts to lure Bass Pro Departing chief of development agency blames misinformation for opposition to project

Anthony H. Gioia, who is resigning as head of the agency working to bring a Bass Pro Outdoor World store to Buffalo, says many criticisms of the project are based on misinformation.

Gioia and former Rep. Jack F. Quinn Jr., who both have served on the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. since its inception in July 2005, have turned in letters of resignation, opening the door for Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer to make his mark on the state-created waterfront development panel.

Sources familiar with the governor's plans said Thursday that Buffalo businessman Jordan A. Levy will be appointed chairman.

Gioia described himself as "somewhat frustrated" by criticism of the Bass Pro proposal.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there that seems to be purposely repeated by people who want this plan to fail, maybe because they didn't come up with it, or maybe because they don't like the people that proposed it," he said.

He said one of the greatest misconceptions is that every element of the plan is set in stone. The ambitious project includes the 100,000-square-foot Bass Pro store, as well as another 600,000 square feet of shops, a museum, restaurants, residential and office space over a four-block area.

He admitted that even if the final plan does not please everyone, it will "absolutely reflect input" from the community."

"There's no excuse to just say 'no' when there will be many opportunities for constructive dialogue," Gioia said. "It makes no sense to be a narrow-minded obstructionist. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and we need to focus on the potential benefits for Buffalo and all of Western New York."

The official announcement of Levy's appointment is expected Tuesday when Spitzer visits Buffalo to tour the inner and outer harbors and to meet with waterfront planners.

"I think Jordan is a great choice," Gioia said. "He has a strong record of professional success and is deeply involved in the community."

Levy, a partner in Softbank Capital, a technology-focused venture capital firm, could not be reached to comment. A registered Republican, Levy contributed $7,500 to the election campaign of Spitzer, a Democrat, and was a co-host of a Buffalo fundraiser for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2005 re-election effort.

The front-runner to succeed Quinn is said to be David J. Colligan, a Buffalo attorney and legal counsel to the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy as well as co-chairman of Re-Tree WNY.

Gioia, a former U.S. ambassador to Malta who had close ties to former Gov. George E. Pataki, said he submitted his resignation late last month but was asked to continue as the head of the development panel until a successor was picked.

"I have been wanting to step down since January, but waited until the new administration had its feet on the ground to make it official," said Gioia, who has taken on a key fundraising role in the presidential campaign of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"Because we're at a critical juncture on development of the Erie Canal Harbor, I agreed to stay on for the sake of continuity. Gov. Spitzer and his staff have been nothing but gracious to me," he said.

Quinn, now president of the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates, confirmed he sent Spitzer his resignation early last month and, like Gioia, had agreed to continue on the board until his seat is filled.

"It's time for the new administration to put in their people, but I'll hang around until that happens," said Quinn, who has been a player in local waterfront planning since 1988 when he was named to the now-defunct Horizons Waterfront Commission.

The high-profile waterfront development panel is gearing up to win approval for a $275 million blueprint for overhauling the Erie Canal Harbor neighborhood, dubbed "Canal Side." The plan, which has touched a nerve in the preservation community with a proposal to locate a Bass Pro store on the historic Central Wharf site, has just entered the environmental review stage.

The public-private development plan also has been criticized for including $25 million in government funds to pay for site preparation and construction of the shell of the Bass Pro store. Earlier this week, a consultant for outdoor retail chain Gander Mountain appeared before a Common Council committee and at a community meeting to decry using public funds to lure private businesses.

As a congressman, Quinn had worked to obtain millions of dollars in federal transportation funds that will aid the development. He also played "quarterback" in bringing more than a dozen governments and agencies together to focus on landing Bass Pro.

He said he remains optimistic about the ambitious plan.

"As my father used to say, 'If it was easy, everybody would do it,' and this hasn't been easy," Quinn said. "Just because there are some loud voices out there, it doesn't mean they're right. The focus needs to be on the proposal, not the distractions."

No other changes are anticipated in the Erie Canal development panel, whose other voting members are Sabres Managing Partner Larry Quinn; William Ransom, general manager of WKBW-TV; Maureen Hurley, Rich Products executive vice president; William Collins, partner in Travers Collins & Co.; and Daniel Gundersen, upstate chairman of the Empire State Development Corp.

Nonvoting members are Mayor Byron W. Brown, Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra and Mindy Rich, senior vice president of Rich Products.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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