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Walgreens no longer pursuing site on Delaware

The Walgreens drugstore chain is backing away from plans to build one of its big-box stores on a prime block of Buffalo's Delaware Avenue.

Delaware Council Member Marc A. Coppola said a real estate agent working on Walgreens' behalf has assured him the project has been put on hold and the chain no longer is actively trying to acquire property in the 1300 block of Delaware, between Gates Circle and West Delevan Avenue.

"A representative of the proposed development told me he is no longer in strong pursuit of this site. While I'm not taking this as a guarantee that the idea is dead forever, I was assured it is no longer an active project," Coppola said.

Following news stories raising the possibility of Walgreens coming into the neighborhood, Coppola said his constituents and others made it clear they opposed the development.

"It was a 100 percent negative reaction. If Walgreens had chosen to pursue this, they would have been up against strong opposition from residents, preservationists and me," Coppola said.

Coppola declined to reveal the name of the real estate agent.

Over the past several months, residents in the Oxford-Linwood neighborhood and businesses along the east side of the targeted block have been contacted by real estate agents about selling their properties. Corporate representatives of Walgreens, the nation's largest drugstore chain, have never confirmed the company's interest in the Delaware Avenue site, but several property owners were told the company was behind the offers.

One of the largest parcels the agents pursued was the Millard Fillmore Hospital parking lot, located behind the string of Delaware Avenue structures. Several property owners along Linwood Avenue, Linwood Terrace and Lafayette Avenue said they had been contacted by agents who suggested the hospital was trying to assemble land for a replacement parking lot.

Gordon Mathers, of 874 Lafayette, was among a group of five Lafayette
Avenue homeowners who sat down with an agent at a neighbor's home regarding a buyout. While the agent was never specific about the end user, the offers were serious, he said.

"I'm really happy to hear that this thing is dead. I'm pleased the neighborhood will remain as it is," Mathers said. "I didn't want to be put in a position where we would have been forced to sell if things went that way."

Mark Hutchinson, owner of Hutch's restaurant at 1375 Delaware Ave., right in the middle of the Walgreens site, said he got so weary of answering customer inquiries about the restaurant's future, he turned the murky situation into an advertising vehicle.

Buffalo's Paragon Advertising created a radio and print ad campaign that questions the wisdom of wiping out a thriving urban neighborhood -- and the 11-year-old restaurant -- to build a giant drugstore.

"OK, we are worried!" the ad explains. "But perhaps we can work something out . . . Maybe cold remedies in Aisle 6 and pasta jambalaya in Aisle 7."

Hutchinson said he's relieved Walgreens has apparently shelved its plans.

Fann Markel, owner of The Floristry and the Hutch's site, put a large poster in her shop's front window in mid-January announcing that rumors she has sold her properties "have been greatly exaggerated."

But one nearby businessman said he's disappointed the project has been withdrawn without a formal presentation and discussion. Joseph P. Dispenza, president of the Forest Lawn Group, which operates the cemetery, said he would have preferred to have the project get a true public airing.

"We really don't know what they were planning. All we know is a lot of people were upset about the idea of a Walgreens, but it might have turned out to be the highest, best use," Dispenza said.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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