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Appraisal calls Fulton St. price $1.1 million too low

The almost 640 feet of Fulton Street wanted by Seneca Gaming Corp. for its downtown Buffalo casino is worth $1.1 million more than the city has agreed to accept, casino opponents said Wednesday.

An independent appraisal, commissioned by Citizens for a Better Buffalo, sets the value at $1.775 million, according to Joseph H. Emminger, president of Emminger, Hyatt, Newton & Pigeon, a real estate appraisal and consulting firm.

City officials have agreed to sell the land for $631,000. A public hearing on the proposed sale is scheduled for 6 p.m. today in Council Chambers at City Hall.

Six of nine lawmakers would have to approve the street sale. A vote could occur at Tuesday's Common Council meeting.

"I was a little surprised at the value," said Emminger, who said his firm's appraisal was done according to state guidelines on the sale of public property to private developers.

"It's a lot different from your typical residential appraisal," he said.

Emminger agrees with the "stand-alone" appraisal of Fulton Street obtained by Seneca Gaming Corp. But he said it failed to consider a "highest and best use analysis" of the property, which determines which use would bring about the highest value.

Fulton Street runs through the middle of the almost nine-acre Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino site. Whether it becomes part of it would affect the permanent casino's size and amenities, gaming corporation officials have said.

In determining the $1.775 million value, independent appraisers subtracted the noncontiguous parcels' "before" value of $6.265 million from the $8.040 million "after" value of the assembled site, including Fulton Street.

Emminger talked Wednesday, in general terms, about recent cases in which developers needing such final parcels for a project ended up paying between 50 and 100 percent above their market value.

Robert Knoer, an attorney suing the city on behalf of residents opposed to the casino, said: "The Seneca appraisal should not be the basis for this transaction.

"There should have been an independent appraisal to reach a fair price for selling the public's property to a private developer -- or at the very least a competing appraisal done with the interests of the city in mind," Knoer said.

There was more casino debate Wednesday in City Hall -- on environmental issues.

City legal advisers want the Council to approve a partial environmental review that would take into account only the impact of selling Fulton Street. An attorney who's assisting the city argued that a full-blown environmental study would be fruitless, because the city is powerless to impose regulations on a project that will be built on sovereign land.

News Staff Reporter Brian Meyer contributed to this article.

-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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