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Property talks begin for $37 million courthouse project

Largo Real Estate of Wheatfield has begun to make purchase offers for the property on North Main Street where the city's new courthouse and Police Department will be built.

Largo President Gary Coscia met this week with several owners of the dozen or so private parcels needed to assemble a four-acre site bounded by Michigan and Cleveland avenues and Main and 10th streets. Largo and Ciminelli Development Co. of Williamsville are part of the joint development team the City Council picked in June to build its new $37 million public safety complex on Main Street.

The courthouse in the city's current Public Safety Building at 520 Hyde Park Blvd. must be replaced by March 2007 under a mandate by the state's Office of Court Administration, or the state could impose a $12 million sanction on the city.

The purchase offers were something of a surprise after negotiations between the city and developer came to a standstill earlier this year. Mayor Vince Anello had even considered scrapping talks with Ciminelli, but it was another story this week when development and city officials gathered on Thursday to unveil a sign at the park at Main Street and South Avenue announcing the project.

"We're moving forward," said Coscia. "We're going to build this thing."

The public safety complex could displace a church, a hair supply store, a salon, an adult bookstore, a deli, a landscaping business and a neighborhood development office. A few of the properties are owned by the city through foreclosure and half of the parcel is a city-owned parking lot.

Main Street Association President Claudia Miller said that although her group rejected the first offer for its park property on Main Street, the approach that was taken by Largo was "very positive."

Coscia said he would like to help all business owners affected relocate to some of the buildings across the street. He said he has also contacted Richard Hastings, a developer with many properties in that area, about a few of his holdings adjacent to the courthouse site. The team is required to complete 20,000-square-feet of private development somewhere in the city, and Coscia said that's why some property owners not involved in the project may receive phone calls or letters about their property. Also, the size of the complex is estimated at 140,600 square feet but could be larger if more tenants are attracted to locate governmental offices there.

The step toward buying properties was taken even though the city has not yet signed a binding "development services agreement" to move forward with Largo and Ciminelli. The city and developer have clashed over who would pay up-front for land acquisition. The city wants the estimated $1.3 million cost to be added to the total price tag of the project to be paid through a lease arrangement.

However, Anello said the city has assured the developer it would pay for those costs in full if the city dropped Ciminelli or chose another location. While the lease arrangement is still being negotiated, it appears the developer has decided to move forward in good faith.

Councilman Lewis Rotella credits the compromise to Attorney James C. Roscetti, who was hired by the city last month to handle negotiations leading toward a contract with Ciminelli.

"Him being the go-between for both parties brought a little harmony to both sides," Rotella said "I hope it lasts."


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