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Update sought on courthouse project

The city has been negotiating with a joint developer since November to build the largest public project in 30 years, and Councilman Chris A. Robins said it's about time taxpayers know what's going on.

"This is long overdue for citizens to be informed on what's going on," Robins said at a special Council meeting Thursday that focused on how to finance the planned $37.5 million courthouse and police department complex.

The city administration has maintained negotiations should be private.

Robins said details could stay private, but questions about those talks should be asked in public.

Most of the questions at Thursday's meeting centered on the finances of the project.

Mayor Vince Anello is characterizing the most recently proposed contract submitted by Ciminelli Development Company of Amherst as "a blank check" for the developer.

Council Chairman Charles Walker said the proposal doesn't recommend a financing method, and he wants the developer to recommend the cheapest method of payment.

Falls Attorney James C. Roscetti -- hired by the city to negotiate the contract with Ciminelli and Largo Real Estate of Wheatfield, which were chosen in June as the city's preferred developer -- said the developer isn't required to choose the lowest bid.

So Robins asked how much control the city has over the cost of the project.

A Ciminelli official told Robins the city would have total control over costs.

"The city controls every element of bid contracts, and the price of the project from start to finish," said Senior Development Project Manager Kevin Greiner. "It's always been that way."

He said 10 payment methods have been laid out by the developer, and it's unknown how much will be contributed by the state Office of Court Administration to replace its courthouse by March 2007. A deadline for the city to show progress -- or face sanctions -- had been set by the agency for today, but the meeting was moved to 11 a.m. Monday.

Roscetti countered many of Greiner's claims, saying the city's right over bids is not written in the contract. He said issues remain with cost analysis, a $26,000 monthly fee for the developer's services and a 410-day timeline to finish construction drawings.

No actions or decisions were made at the meeting.

Under the city charter, the mayor negotiates contracts and the Council approves them, but the roles appear to be changing with this project.

Walker said regardless of whether there is a proposed agreement at Monday's Council meeting, it will be decided whether to stay with Ciminelli or choose another direction.

Robins disagreed with Walker that the city has made progress with the project.

"We've put in the public that this was going forward for three weeks," he said. "I think we have some rose-colored glasses."

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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