Lancaster economic development board debates its own purpose - The Buffalo News

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Lancaster economic development board debates its own purpose

Lancaster's village economic development agency unexpectedly found itself Wednesday re-examining its purpose while in the midst of trying to sell a nearly 5-acre chunk of West Main Street eyed for reviving the downtown business district.

Before negotiations on the sale can proceed, the Lancaster Community Development Corp. board needs more details from Revitalize Lancaster, a group of investors who in November submitted the lone proposal for the purchase and development of the agency-owned land listed for sale for $845,000.

Board President James B. Allein said the board expects by the end of January to have more information from Revitalize Lancaster about its proposal. "They did not submit everything we asked for," Allein said.

The proposal by the investment group - which has close ties to the agency's former longtime legal counsel Mark S. Aquino - was not publicly discussed by the board during Wednesday's meeting.

In December, the agency refused to release a copy of the Revitalize Lancaster proposal to The Buffalo News under a Freedom of Information Law request, saying that could adversely affect negotiations with the developer. Aquino has also declined to release the proposal.

Meanwhile, Wednesday's meeting of the board mushroomed into a spirited discussion about the agency's future once the land is sold. Some insisted the agency would not dissolve and would stay active within the business community. Others disagreed.

"The CDC does not want to go away. We feel we have a mission down there with the business district," Allein said. "The CDC is here to stay."

But Village Trustee Dawn Robinson, also an agency board member, challenged that notion. She said it was her understanding that the agency would cease to exist once the West Main Street land was sold or developed.

Former Mayor William G. Cansdale, under whose leadership the Community Development Corp. was created in 1995, agreed with Robinson's assessment of the agency's mission.

"It was designed to do things that local government could not do, such as acquire property and oversee development of it. The CDC charter was to acquire the West Main parcel and to oversee the redevelopment of that parcel, to try to undo the sins of urban renewal," Cansdale said in an interview Wednesday. "The intention was for CDC to be short term, to oversee redevelopment and once the parcel is sold or developed, the CDC would cease to exist."

The agency was created to replace the then-Lancaster Visions, a nonprofit created by businessman Dick Young to help restore the downtown business district. It initially had six board members, plus the mayor, Cansdale said.

Board member Kim Stribing said the agency's future extends beyond the West Main Street parcel it owns. "We're the whole business district," she said.

"So what have you done?" Robinson retorted.

Meanwhile, the Community Development Corp.'s volunteer board has a new vacancy created by the resignation Wednesday of village merchant Paul Lista, who cited business obligations that prevented him from continuing on the board.

Allein, the board president for three years, said he nearly resigned himself last month because of the time commitment. But he said he agreed to stay after some board members talked him out of it.

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