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ATRIUM IDEA WINS TOP SPOT IN DESIGN BRAINSTORMING CONTEST

More than 65 redesign ideas have been offered for a three-block area around Memorial Auditorium, including a bowling hall of fame and a 300-foot fountain that would spout from a fireboat replica, Buffalo officials said Friday.

The burst of creativity, which involved architects from as far away as Austria, was prompted by a "New Public Space" design contest sponsored by the city and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Top prize went to a New York City firm, MSM Architects, that suggests transforming Memorial Auditorium into an office-retail building, complete with an atrium and park that would take in the Metro Rail line and the site now occupied by the Donovan State Office Building.

So what's next?

"We're having conversations now with people that can help us with specific projects and a master development plan," Mayor Masiello said.

Asked when the city might actually begin redeveloping the area, Masiello said, "Sooner rather than later."

According to Masiello, the next step calls for the city to select a master developer who will come up with specific proposals for the site that will depend on market forces, rather than design ideas.

But the purpose of the contest was to whet appetites and see what is possible, Masiello said.

"I think this helped to plant the seed . . . to pique and to tweak our interest," Masiello said.

The city's timetable is flexible, he said.

"I don't want to say it will happen overnight. We want to put together a dream team so we can . . . put together a major development (and) . . . begin to put in some of the pieces."

Contest officials also emphasize that the contest was about design ideas, not to choose an actual development for the site.

"It was an idea competition . . . to see what's possible," said Christopher F. Less, vice president of Canon Design, who organized the contest.

"We would like . . . to lead and be proactive," he said, describing the winning design as "a large-scale public space similar to Toronto's Eaton Center."

MSM's concept drawing shows an Aud that has been transformed into an "urban atrium," complete with an "interior park" that would be built on the ice rink level and extend outside the structure for more than two blocks.

To accommodate the park, the existing Aud building would be reconfigured into a three-sided courtyard and encased in a new glass exterior, including a transparent roof, designers say.

The atrium roof would begin at a new, fifth-floor retail center atop the Aud and then soar out over the Metro Rail line.

Designers Thomas McKay and Charles Mallea also call for the Donovan Building to be razed to make way for the park and for a new multiplex theater to be built across the street from Marine Midland Arena.

Still another design with a more whimsical idea was offered by The Sear-Brown Group of Buffalo, which included a fountain shaped like a fireboat that would shoot a 300-foot stream of water through the air and into a pond.

Nevertheless, its idea for locating a bowling hall of fame atop the Aud drew the most attention.

Architect David I. Carli said the group even thought the vacant grain elevators on the Buffalo River could be remade to resemble bowling pins.

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