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RINK DEVELOPER SUED FOR $6.25 MILLION BY FIRED DESIGN FIRM

The developer of an $18.4 million Amherst ice skating arena has been hit with a $6.25 million lawsuit by the project design firm it used for about 18 months, then fired this month.

Cannon Design of Grand Island is suingEdgewater Ventures of Syracuse and its managing partner on the Amherst project, John E. "Skip" Cerio, claiming Edgewater used Cannon's national reputation and expertise to win the project, but never intended to pay it "due consideration and compensation," according to papers filed in State Supreme Court.

Cannon announced its lawsuit Thursday, as Edgewater was announcing a ground-breaking ceremony for the ice rink project Tuesday at the Amherst Audubon Recreation Center.

Amherst officials said they don't think the litigation will affect the project schedule, which calls for completion next fall.

Town officials said Cannon was replaced on the design team by a Minnesota firm that reportedly will be paid roughly half of what Edgewater originally projected as Cannon's fee for architectural, engineering and construction management services. The savings are pocketed by the developer because the project budget remains $18.4 million, said Amherst Council Member Thomas A. Loughran, a frequent critic of the way the the town structured the deal.

The lawsuit charges that Edgewater's "failure and refusal to pay reasonable architectural, engineering and construction administration fees for the ice rink project is motivated by (its) desire to increase its own profit margin."

The suit seeks $250,000 in compensatory damages, $1 million in damages related to alleged defamation of Cannon's name, and $5 million in punitive damages related to the alleged defamation and fraud, said Patrick J. Maxwell, an attorney for the law firm of Harris, Beach & Wilcox.

"It is an understatement to say that Cannon feels very strongly about the situation and the actions of the developer, (which) Cannon will not accept or tolerate . . ." Maxwell said.

Kenneth J. Africano, an attorney with Damon & Morey, the law firm representing Edgewater, said:

"It's our opinion that Cannon does not have and has never had a contract with Edgewater for this project. We believe the lawsuit is meritless and will be vigorously defended."

In April 1996, Edgewater "agreed and promised that Cannon . . . would serve as architects of record for the project" and be paid 6 1/2 percent of project construction costs for its architectural and engineering services, according to the suit.

Cannon worked on the project for 18 months, providing, among other things, "plans, drawings, renderings and the actual design of the Edgewater team's proposed ice rink facility," the suit said.

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