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NEW DEVELOPMENT MISSION: GETTING THINGS DONE

In local business circles, Mayor Masiello's second term in office will be judged by a different standard than the formula used to grade his first term. In the next four years, many business leaders will place heightened emphasis on the I-word: implementation.

Local developer Paul F. Ciminelli, who chairs the mayor's Business Advisory Council, says there's a growing desire to see blueprints blossom into tangible results.

"In the first term, we saw a lot of planning," Ciminelli said. "Some ambitious projects were put on the drawing board. In the second term, we hope to see these plans come to fruition."

The priority projects include development of the inner harbor and other shoreline sites, construction of a new convention center, multimillion-dollar housing initiatives and major job creation efforts.

Recognizing the new-found emphasis that is being placed on implementation, Masiello recently announced a shake up of his development team. Community Development Commissioner Alan H. DeLisle -- a close confidant since Masiello's days in the State Senate -- will become president of the Buffalo Economic Development Corp. DeLisle will replace Daniel S. Bicz, who is leaving for a lucrative job in the private sector.

While city planners are reluctant to steal any thunder by outlining the changes prior to Masiello's public unveiling of a new mission statement, one thing is evident: the BEDC soon will become the nerve center for some of the largest development projects the city has undertaken in years. The corporation could become an active player in future efforts to relocate the Buffalo Zoo on the downtown waterfront and build a children's museum in the downtown district.

DeLisle is also optimistic that a private developer can be found to construct a $25 million multipurpose ice skating rink and recreation center at South Park Avenue and Mississippi Street in the Cobblestone District.

"We'll be focusing on a fairly short but meaningful project list and we'll track these initiatives on a day-by-day basis. Each project will have its own manager and there will be a clear line of authority," said DeLisle, who expects to assume his new duties in a few weeks.

Bicz, who has headed the corporation for two years, takes pride in the administration's new direction, claiming it's a signal that the mayor recognizes the BEDC's ability to get things done. He said the agency has created or retained more than 9,770 jobs since 1994, a 137 percent increase over a four-year period that began in 1990.

He also noted that the BEDC produced more than $250 million in private investment and played defining roles in many priority projects, including the Market Arcade complex, Grace Manor and the development of new industrial parks.

Bicz bristles at speculation that he's being forced out.

"It's simply not true," he said. "The mayor invited me to participate in his vision for the second term, but this opportunity in the private sector was too good to pass up."

Bicz will work with Richard Taylor, the new owner of the former Bon-Ton building downtown. Taylor owns Austin Air, an international manufacturer and exporter of air cleaners for homes and businesses. Bicz will officially begin Jan. 9 and will focus on cultivating new business development.

"Richard Taylor thinks Buffalo is an attractive place to do business. He came here from Toronto in 1990 and had one employee. Now, he has 60 employees," Bicz said.

While Bicz views his four years with the Masiello administration as a period of accomplishment (he previously served as community development commissioner,) he admits government can be frustrating for someone who is a "private-sector kind of guy." He thinks government leaders too often place undue emphasis on the process rather than results.

"In the private sector, one person can say 'yes' and produce immediate results. In the public sector, one person can rarely say 'yes,' but 100 people can say 'no.' "

Critics have long complained that Buffalo's business development schematic is bogged down in bureaucracy. As recently as last week, an official from Laidlaw Transit Inc., the nation's largest school bus carrier, expressed frustration over the red tape his firm has faced in its desire to move operations from Cheektowaga to Buffalo.

While DeLisle thinks headway has been made in recent years to make the city more user-friendly to business, he admits there's room for improvement.

"The mayor wants to take some of the confusion out of the process," DeLisle said. "In the past, there hasn't been enough clarity between the roles of the BEDC and Community Development."

DeLisle is confident the impending changes will produce a clearly defined system that will eliminate any confusion when business owners seek assistance from the city.

Common Council President James Pitts, a frequent critic of Masiello's community development policies, is skeptical of the mayor's shake-up.

"Where is the change in direction? You have Alan DeLisle taking over for someone who essentially worked under him. I don't think there has been enough emphasis placed on productivity and results," Pitts said.

But DeLisle dismissed the criticism, pointing to many projects that have come to fruition in the first term, including neighborhood improvement initiatives, new housing, business parks and downtown development. He also touted the city's successful bids to retain some companies, including Buffalo China and Graphic Controls Corp.

Masiello has yet to name DeLisle's successor. The person who ultimately is tapped to become community development commissioner must be confirmed by the Common Council.

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