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Take a crumbling hockey arena, add two elevated expressways and a mediocre state office building, and what do you get?

That was the challenge in a design competition that involved 65 teams of architects from three countries, who scratched their heads and came up with ideas for reusing a three-block waterfront area around Memorial Auditorium and the Gen. Donovan State Office Building.

The winning design, announced today, is by MSM Architects of New York. It would transform the venerable Aud into a five-story atrium office and retail complex with a new glass roof and an interior "park" where the ice rink is now.

"This was a difficult site, very challenging . . . most of the architects told us that," said contest coordinator Christopher F. Less, vice president of Cannon Design.

Architects and designers were faced with such issues as whether to reuse or demolish the Aud, how to deal with the Skyway and the elevated Niagara Thruway, which border the site, and how to cope with a 15-foot change in the elevation of the land, which slopes from Exchange to Marine Midland Arena.

In the end, ideas produced ranged from whimsical to elegant, according to contest organizers.

The contest, entitled the "New Public Space Competition," was sponsored by five architecture and development groups and drew entries from as far away as Montreal and Graz, Austria.

"It was very successful, beyond our expectations," Less said.

According to Mayor Masiello, who awarded the total of $6,000 in prizes, the city hopes to be able to use some of the ideas in redeveloping the site.

"This is an impressive display of talent and new energy," Masiello said at an award ceremony in his office.

MSM's design also would call for razing the Donovan building and extending the glass roof over the Aud to cover the Metro Rail line, creating an outdoor-indoor park area.

The green space would start inside the present Aud building and spill out on the three blocks of the site, covering a below-grade parking garage.

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