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Developer pulls plan for new rehab center Heavy opposition stymied agency's plan for home downtown

A developer has withdrawn a plan to open a rehabilitation center for mentally ill adults in the downtown business district.

Opposition from some downtown leaders and a police chief prompted abandonment of plans to relocate the center to the Courtyard Mall at 460 Main St., said Carl P. Paladino, owner of the mall.

The Restoration Society currently is located in a city-owned building on Elmwood Avenue, near Virginia Street, and has been looking for a new site because the city indicated it might need the space.

"They didn't want to go through a public battle," Paladino said Wednesday, after city zoning officials confirmed that the developer had withdrawn the plan.

Opposition to the plan was evident at a Dec. 12 meeting at Buffalo Place, the entity that manages the central business district, Paladino said. Some people raised fears that locating the facility on Main Street, near Court Street, would increase panhandling.

"It was a very myopic conversation," Paladino said. "This agency is very well respected for being part of the solution, not part of the problem."

But Central District Police Chief Donna Berry said panhandling was only one concern. She said a major issue involved access for emergency vehicles.

The rehab center would have been located on the second floor of the vacant Courtyard Mall, which is on a stretch of Main Street that is closed to traffic. The agency's facility on Elmwood has had a large number of police and fire calls in the past, including incidents of clients needing medical attention, Berry said. The center also generates trespassing complaints.

Berry said the Restoration Society does "great work," but she thinks locating the center in the hub of the business district would have been a mistake.

"It just wasn't a good fit," she said.

Others said locating the facility in the center of downtown's entertainment district was ill-advised.

Jack Guastaferro, the Restoration Society's chief executive officer, disagreed. He maintained that the center, which would have offered structured activities to clients in a supervised "clubhouse" setting, would have been an asset to Main Street.

"But it was real clear to me that we were going to fight the fight and would more than likely lose," he said.

The agency currently is looking at alternative sites near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

The center would serve up to 900 people annually, and would house the agency's administrative offices.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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