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Courthouse needed for rebirth City's core will benefit from getting crucial project back into federal budget

A key downtown Buffalo project could get back on track in the next federal budget year, as Congress seeks to restore spending that President Bush postponed. The proposed high-priority federal courthouse project on Niagara Square wouldn't have had that hope without some key deadline-time champions, but it now needs stronger concentrated backing from the entire regional delegation.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer won Senate backing of the $115.5 million project and Rep. Brian M. Higgins made the needed appropriations request in the House. The rest of the delegation provided general support, but needs to muscle up on this one.

Buffalo's proposed new courthouse is not a feel-good project. It's the top national priority for the federal judicial conference, a needed upgrade in function and security. Although it faces some historic preservation issues in its Niagara Square location, the government commissioned a stunning building that won national design awards. It can be not just a good courthouse, but a symbol of rebirth in a city with a rich architectural heritage. And it will be a needed federal reinvestment in downtown, following the closing and sale of the Federal Reserve Bank, the abandonment and proposed sale of the Dulski Federal Office Building at 111 W. Huron St., and the loss or scattering of federal jobs in the downtown area. Keeping federal jobs here also must be a federal priority.

Funding for construction, though, was delayed by federal budget problems. Restoration of the project in the appropriations process could put this building back on track for a 2007 start, and ease fears that demolitions of a historic house and vaudeville theater at the site would lead only to an empty lot. This project needs doing.

Schumer showed political expertise in checking the judiciary priority list to discover that Salt Lake City is in second place, and then enlisting key Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah in an effort also supported by other top Senate leaders. That adds powerful momentum to this project, and gives it a chance to avoid yet another year's delay.

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