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Razor wire draws barbs downtown

When it comes to security measures employed by downtown Buffalo businesses, razor wire doesn't make the cut in the eyes of Buffalo Place.

The downtown business group Wednesday had sharp words for WGRZ-TV, Channel 2, at 259 Delaware Ave., whose parking lot perimeter fencing is topped by razor wire. The coils of barbed wire are visible from the front of the property and in the rear along Franklin Street.

"Prison fencing doesn't have a place in downtown Buffalo. If you feel you have to have it to feel safe in downtown Buffalo, maybe you don't want to be downtown," said Howard A. Zemsky, a Buffalo Place board member who owns several downtown buildings.

"It's ridiculous," said Paul F. Ciminelli, president of Ciminelli Development Co., who said his company would never consider razor wire to safeguard the downtown properties it owns or manages. "It would be in such poor taste. It looks terrible and sends a very bad message."

Zemsky said he and other board members are willing to pay for a study of fence design alternatives to "move forward in a constructive manner."

"We're not out to embarrass anyone, but we'd like to get their attention," he said.

Channel 2 station chief James W. Toellner said this is the first time in his three-year tenure that he has heard complaints about the fencing.

"It is important to the security of our people and our equipment. Security is a big issue for us because we have people coming in and out at all times of the day and night," he said, noting that the television station is located just off Chippewa Street, where bar patrons are on the streets around the station until the 4 a.m. bar closing time and beyond.

But Michael T. Schmand, executive director of Buffalo Place, said that the group has contacted two of the station's past general managers, as well as Toellner, but that the effort has been fruitless.

In a Sept. 27, 2004, letter, Schmand wrote: "I cannot tell you how many negative comments I have heard with regard to the inappropriateness of your fencing. These comments come from workers, visitors and downtown residents reacting to the existence of this fence in the center of our otherwise vibrant downtown."

Restaurateur Mark D. Croce, whose upscale Buffalo Chop House is next door to WGRZ, has long complained about the negative message the razor wire sends to his patrons. The aggressive fencing also runs along a portion of the vacant lot at 285 Delaware Ave., where Uniland Development Corp. will soon break ground for a new $12 million office complex whose primary tenant will be M&T Bank.

Aesthetics aside, city building code bans razor wire and barbed wire fencing except under special circumstances where a variance has been granted. A number of scrap yards and industrial sites in the city use razor wire, but Channel 2 is said to be the only downtown site using it.

WGRZ received city approval to install the wire in the 1970s.

In addition to securing Channel 2's employee parking lot and entrance, the fence protects the station's satellite dishes and news vehicles.

"Obviously, we have to maintain a high level of security, but I would be open to looking at alternatives," Toellner said.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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