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Office building nears go-ahead from Council Court Street project debated for 18 years

A long-stalled plan for an 11-story office tower on Court Street was expected to win Common Council approval Tuesday.

After meeting with the developer Wednesday, lawmakers expressed support for the project at 50 Court St. The 335,000-square-foot building would cost $40 million to $45 million. Construction is likely begin in the fall, with completion expected in 2008.

At least seven Council members have committed to supporting the project in the vote to be taken Tuesday after a 2 p.m. public hearing.

Richard M. Tobe, Buffalo's economic development chief, helped broker a compromise between the city and the 1097 Group, an entity owned by Carl P. Paladino. Tobe urged lawmakers to approve the revised contract under which Paladino would pay $700,000 for the city-owned site. Tobe said the complex would be the first large-scale downtown project of its kind in a generation.

But the leasing director for a major downtown landlord urged the Council to delay the vote until Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps releases an updated parking study.

Eric S.P. Lefebvre of the Main Place-Liberty Group, which offered $1.25 million for the site to build a 600-vehicle parking ramp, said downtown clearly has a parking problem.

"How can they make this kind of decision on parking without knowing what the study is going to say?" Lefebvre asked.

South Council Member Michael P. Kearns said he doesn't need to see a new study before casting his vote.

"Downtown doesn't need more parking," he said.

Buffalo Place is providing technical support for the study. Debra Chernoff, the group's manager of planning, said the report is expected to be completed next month. She stressed that Buffalo Place has not taken a position on the office project, the focus of periodic debate for 18 years.

Mayor Byron W. Brown supported the $700,000 selling price only after the developer agreed to eliminate a potential rebate of $150,000 in the purchase price if underground obstructions were found. Brown also pushed for a new policy that forces the developer to meet specific deadlines for submitting construction plans, applying for permits and disclosing financing.

Brown said he was pleased the Council is ready to approve the plan.

"It's a good project, and this is a new model for establishing development agreements," he said.

Paul Gregory, who represents the developer, told the Council's Community Development Committee that while some tenants likely will already be leasing downtown office space, he anticipated landing tenants now located in the suburbs or even outside the area.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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