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The Peace Bridge has a new fan, one who might be able to help keep it around.

Swiss bridge architect Christian Menn, brought to Buffalo to help figure out what kind of bridge to build across the Niagara River, said he likes the appearance of the 1927 bridge.

His comments provide an early indication that he first will try to come up with alternatives compatible with the current bridge and that would not require its demolition.

"I think the new bridge must be original, must be elegant, must be a bridge of our time and, in a certain way, fit with the old bridge," Menn told The Buffalo News between City Hall meetings with civic leaders.

Menn visited the Peace Bridge for the first time Tuesday, though he had previously seen photographs of the crossing.

The Peace Bridge reflects a style from the early 20th century, he said.

"This is a nice example of that age of bridge construction, and personally, I like it," he said. "I feel it is a beautiful bridge."

Keeping it around, however, makes designing a new bridge tougher.

"You have this old bridge, and you want to build a new one," Menn said. "And, therefore, the project will be very, very challenging."

Menn said it is too early to say how his visit to the Peace Bridge will shape his ideas, and he has not ruled anything in or out as he begins his work. But the current bridge seemingly could be part of his suggested solution -- not in conflict with it.

"Personally, I have the impression the Peace Bridge is part of this," Menn said.

Menn also said he liked Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's suggestion of shrinking the U.S. plaza by almost half and restoring Front Park and Fort Porter.

Masiello, who met with Menn, said Menn talked about the possibility and challenges of building a bridge next to the current span.

"That could be a phenomenal draw, combining the old and new," Masiello said.

Those in charge of the project's environmental review said Menn has a free hand to offer whatever ideas he would like, whether they include or exclude the Peace Bridge.

"We haven't given any parameters, conditions or any restrictions to Professor Menn," said Vincent P. Lamb of Parsons Transportation Group. Lamb, project manager for the Peace Bridge expansion project's environmental review, persuaded the Peace Bridge Authority to invite Menn to Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ont.

"We're going to let him develop any ideas and concepts that he thinks are appropriate for the issues that have to be addressed for this project," Lamb said.

Menn said he did not know how long coming up with ideas for a new crossing would take.

"I don't know how we solve this problem," he said. "It's too early. We'll try to find the best solution."

Whatever the outcome, Menn emphasized the importance of winning public support.

"I hope that we find a solution for this bridge, which would be very well received by the public," Menn said. "That's very important."

Menn's idea for a cable-stayed bridge across the Charles River linking Boston and Cambridge, Mass., solved a civic crisis as contentious as the one here.

For the most part, the structure, scheduled to open in November 2002, has drawn praise. USA Today said Menn's Boston plan "evolved into a project with something for everyone: soaring lines for the city's architectural community, a lower cost, a simpler construction plan and an engineering marvel attracting construction experts from around the world."

The new Charles River bridge, the world's widest cable-stayed span, will carry 10 lanes of traffic.

"I am so satisfied that the people in Boston like it," Menn said. "That's the biggest satisfaction for the designer of a bridge.

Menn said he hopes for a similar result here.

"We will try to do our best all together, and I hope all together we will come to a good solution that will be well-received," he said.

"I would say, at the moment, I don't see the answer," Menn said. "I like to accept a challenge."

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