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Council delays action on office tower

A nasty dispute involving two downtown developers landed in Common Council Chambers Tuesday when lawmakers delayed action on a plan to build a $45 million office tower at 50 Court St., between Pearl and Franklin streets.

Businessman Carl P. Paladino wants to build an 11-story office building on the site, and he said Tuesday he already has tenants lined up for 30 percent of the space. The Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency has agreed to sell the surface parking lot to Paladino for $700,000.

But the owner of Main Place Mall and the Liberty Building said he's willing to pay $1.275 million. Patrick Hotung of Main Place-Liberty Group wants to build a $10 million, 600-vehicle parking garage on a site that is adjacent to his properties. Hotung, who unsuccessfully sued to halt the project on environmental grounds, insists the business district needs more parking. Two nearby parking facilities have long waiting lists.

One Council member who voted against the project said he's confident concerns can be ironed out, and predicted that lawmakers will approve the land sale at a Jan. 10 meeting.

Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis, whose district includes the site, said there were procedural issues that concerned some lawmakers, including questions about whether all public notification requirements were fulfilled.

"But I'm going to push this project in two weeks," said Davis.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello supports Paladino's plan, claiming it will generate at least $1.4 million in new tax revenues each year. Selling the land for a parking garage, Masiello argued, would result in a half million dollars in one-time revenues.

Paladino chided Hotung Tuesday for opposing the project for "greedy and self-interested reasons." Robert Knoer, Hotung's attorney, argued that it's wrong for the city to accept Paladino's offer, which has a clause that he said could reduce the sale price to $550,000, depending on the condition of the site.

"It's a subsidy to this developer. There's no way around it," he said.

The land deal requires support from seven of nine Council members. There were only five votes for the project Tuesday. Voting against it were Davis, Jeffrey M. Conrad of South, Bonnie E. Russell of University and Antoine M. Thompson of Masten.

Council President David A. Franczyk, who supports the office building, thinks some lawmakers are reluctant to support it until after Mayor-elect Byron W. Brown takes office next week and can review the terms of the deal.

"I think it's some people basically saying there's a new sheriff in town," said Franczyk.

Paladino was a major financial contributor to Republican mayoral candidate Kevin J. Helfer, who was trounced by Brown last month.

But Davis said Brown had nothing to do with it. Instead, Davis cited the need to make sure legal technicalities are addressed before the plan is approved.

After the meeting, Paladino said he had no problems with the Council's decision to delay action for two weeks.

"I think they're just trying to make it bulletproof from a legal standpoint," he said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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