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Existing buildings and some not-yet-built at Benderson Development's Tops-Target plaza, 7414 Niagara Falls Blvd., will come under public scrutiny after Benderson submitted an application for additional assistance from the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

The IDA Project Review Committee Wednesday considered an application from the Randall Benderson Trust for agency approval of a taxable revenue bond for all or part of the cost of the $8 million project, property tax abatement and sales-tax exemption for four existing buildings at the site, a 125,000-square-foot addition and four new buildings totaling 28,000 square feet.

The estimated cost of the project is $7.5 million to $8.5 million.

One of the existing buildings houses a Taco Bell restaurant, while a nearby building houses a Radio Shack and a Blockbuster Video store.

A retail strip connecting Tops and Target is under construction.

Benderson also plans to build an additional retail strip adjacent to the opposite side of the Target store, and two stand-alone retail buildings on either side of the Niagara Falls Boulevard entrance to the Target store, Benderson lawyer David H. Baldauf said.

Baldauf would not identify companies planning to occupy the new buildings.

The IDA already approved assistance for Benderson with the Tops and Target stores at the plaza, but the agency must approve Benderson's plans because the company is seeking more IDA assistance.

The IDA Project Review Committee agreed it will draft a basic letter reminding companies receiving IDA assistance that they are required to seek agency approval before they renovate or build additions to their properties.

The draft letter should be ready in time for the agency's board to vote on it at its meeting next Thursday, agency Executive Director John R. Simon said.

A public hearing on IDA assistance for about $8 million in improvements at Consumers Square -- the Tops-Target plaza is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Nov. 12 in the Earl W. Brydges Public Library on Main Street in Niagara Falls.

In other matters, Wegmans officials confirmed they are looking at the Ames Plaza on Military Road in the Town of Niagara as the site for their first store in the county.

"We have in fact settled on that as a site and are currently working on various approvals, so the planning process is not yet complete," said Ann McCarthy, spokeswoman for the company's Buffalo division.

The IDA is reviewing preliminary documents for the Town of Niagara location. So far, Wegmans has not submitted an application to the IDA for assistance, said Simon.

Board Chairman David W. Supon said that Benderson is "basically trying to feel us out on how we're going to react" to a plan to bring in Wegmans.

Town of Niagara Planning Board officials Tuesday recommended approval of Benderson Development's site plan for an 84,000-square-foot grocery store at the site.

The cost of a Wegmans store at the site has not been released. However, an average Wegmans store costs $15 million to $20 million to build, and employs about 400 people in full- and part-time jobs, Mrs. McCarthy said.

The agency and its board are undecided whether to treat the Wegmans building as a new project -- which comes with more tax abatement benefits -- or as an improvement to the existing Ames plaza property.

"They basically submitted a plan, and we are working with the company to find out what their options are," Simon said.

The IDA holds title to Ames Plaza under a sale-leaseback arrangement with Benderson Development. Benderson's payment in lieu of tax agreement with the IDA is due to expire in two years. At that point, the property is due to return to the tax rolls at its full assessment.

Wegmans has been expanding continuously since it entered the Buffalo area with a store on Dick Road in Cheektowaga in 1977. The company's 10th store in Erie County is scheduled to open Nov. 9 on Amherst Street in Buffalo. The company opened a larger, renovated store at its West Seneca location in June 1996. Wegmans opened a new store on Transit Road in Amherst last November.

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