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Church fills gap in youth program flap Free breakfasts served pending permanent site

A city-run summer youth program that was the center of a verbal dispute Wednesday involving Mayor Vince Anello moved to an East Side church Thursday and served more than a dozen children.

Our Lady of Lebanon Church, at 12th and Niagara streets, took in the breakfast and lunch program and will host the daily youth center until a permanent location is found.

"We really appreciate what they're doing for us," said Marc Stott, the city's golf course, recreation and youth director. "As of right now, we're stationed right there."

The location is the only program that serves free breakfast and lunch to children during the summer months in Niagara Falls. Eight other summer youth programs in the city serve only lunch.

City leaders had planned to start the program Wednesday at a privately owned gym on 13th Street but arrived to find that they could not enter a locked fence on the site. Niagara Falls Redevelopment had closed the building to the city after the company failed to reach an agreement with Anello and city attorneys over the use of the building and the status of seven properties the firm wants.

An executive of the company, Roger Trevino, filed a police report claiming Anello swore at him outside the gym at about 9:20 a.m. Wednesday during a discussion about the building.

Anello, who declined to comment on the accusations, said Wednesday he was upset during the incident, but felt that NFR had closed the gym to the city because the mayor refused to convey city-owned properties to the company.

The city sold the gym to NFR in 2005 under an agreement that the company would develop roughly 142 acres downtown. The city has operated summer and winter recreation programs at the 13th Street site with NFR's permission.

In May, Anello announced that NFR's development agreement with the city had ended because the company had not built the projects outlined in the contract. The city first struck a deal with NFR in 1997 and amended the agreement in 2003.

Earlier this month, an attorney for NFR sent a letter to the city asking the city to meet three conditions to use the gym on 13th Street, including conveying the seven property deeds to NFR and showing proof that the city has insurance for the building.

Although a deal had not yet been worked out, city officials decided to start the program Wednesday at the gym, but when they arrived, they found they had been locked out.

Councilman Charles Walker said he was trying to avoid a situation where the program would be shut down when he asked about the building nearly three weeks ago.

"That's why I kept bringing the issue up, so nobody would forget that we no longer own this site," Walker said.

The program provides a supervised place for children in the neighborhood to go between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays.

NFR attorney John P. Bartolomei said the firm had offered to give the city $250,000 to relocate the program to a new site, but the city never took the money. Anello and Acting Corporation Counsel Damon DeCastro said Wednesday the money was offered, but never given.

e-mail: djewell@buffnews.com

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