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Council OKs court-complex pact Mayor's opposition to development agreement with Ciminelli and Wheatfield firm loses, 4-1

The City Council went against the wishes of Mayor Vince Anello Friday to finally decide the fate of one of the largest building projects in city history.

At a special meeting, the Council voted 4-1 to approve a development services agreement with Ciminelli Development Co. of Amherst and Largo Real Estate Advisors of Wheatfield to design a $37.5 million public safety complex.

The agreement calls for the joint developer, known as CLP3 LLC, to complete design and financing work on a complex that includes a courthouse and Police Department on North Main Street within 18 months. The details of how the city will pay for the project will be decided during the time of this agreement.

Anello referred to the document as a "blank check" for the joint developer. He recited his own adaptation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," referring to the agreement as his "albatross."

The mayor said he could not, in good conscience, recommend that the Council approve the agreement but presented it to that body so as not to appear "obstructionist."

The approved contract is the 20th draft since negotiations began in November, and those talks have appeared bitter between the developer and mayor.

For a decade, the state Office of Court Administration has been asking the city to replace its dilapidated courthouse and had threatened to withhold up to $12 million in state aid if a new building wasn't completed by March 2007. Officials with that office have expressed extreme disappointment at delays.

James C. Roscetti, a Falls attorney hired by the city to negotiate with Ciminelli, has had dozens of issues with past drafts but Friday said, "I could recommend that legally it's a sound document."

One stipulation in the agreement is that contracts with the architect HOK
P.C. and construction manager LPCiminelli Inc., must be signed within seven days and 60 days, respectively.

Council Chairman Charles Walker, who cast the lone no vote, said he was uncomfortable with the contract's lack of a lease agreement. The city has planned to lease and buy back the building from the developer within 30 years, although there are other financing options.

"I am very concerned as to what happens after 30 years," Walker said. "We're basically putting our trust in them as to doing the right thing."

Other Council members said the developers had satisfied their concerns. They said they didn't want to complete the project as a public works project as the mayor has recommended.

Anello refused to sign the approved contract on Friday. He said he will be out of town and designated Councilman Lewis Rotella as acting mayor, telling him to sign the agreement.

Rotella refused designation as acting mayor, and it was expected Friday that Walker as Council chairman, would sign the agreement, despite his disagreement with it, early next week.

"We're pleased and ready to get going with a first-class project," said Largo President Gary Coscia at the meeting. "This is the most efficient way to get this project done. A private developer will bring the cost lower than any alternative."

The developer will contact the Office of Court Administration to work out how much the state will reimburse the city for the courthouse part of the building, and will bring in the recently appointed Municipal Complex Committee for oversight, said Kevin T. Greiner, Ciminelli senior development project manager.

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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