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Developers battling for marina site Three teams submit plans for parcel

A trio of development teams is offering up hotels, office and retail space in a bid to gain rights to a high-profile site overlooking Buffalo's Erie Basin Marina.

Contenders for the 1.5 acre, city-owned land next to Shanghai Red's restaurant include Ciminelli Development Co. of Amherst; J.W. Pitts Properties and Development of Buffalo; and Tampa-based Birchwood Properties Corp.

"We were hoping there'd be a range of interest in that great site, and we've gotten some intriguing proposals," said Mayor Byron W. Brown. "We are at a good starting point to select a designated developer."

Ciminelli chief Paul Ciminelli said his company has submitted "a really creative concept" that includes a 120-room hotel, offices, retail and integrated parking on the compact site.

"We put a lot of thought into our proposal to come up with something that complements the residences of Waterfront Village and plans for the Inner Harbor," Ciminelli said.

The developer declined to disclose the scale of the complex he'd like to build, describing it as "multi-story, but not a skyscraper."

J.W. Pitts, whose principal is former Buffalo Common Council President James W. Pitts, proposes to team with Specialty Restaurants Corp., the California company that manages Shanghai Red's. Their plan calls for development of a four-story, 100-room Wingate Inn hotel that would be tied physically -- via sheltered walkways -- and operationally to the upscale restaurant.

"We want to build on the success of what's already there and make the most of that magnificent site," Pitts said.

The lawmaker-turned-developer said the plan solidifies the dream of Specialty Restaurant founder David Tallichet, who died Oct. 31. In his last interview with The Buffalo News in September, Tallichet, 84, detailed his ideas for the $8 million project, which would also include boat slips for guests and a marina-side gazebo for small-scale events.

Pitts, who said he's been working with Specialty for over a year on the project, was not always a Tallichet ally. During the years-long gap between the closing of Tallichet's Crawdaddys restaurant and construction of Shanghai Red's, Pitts coined the phrase "Crawl-daddys" to describe the glacial pace of the project.

The third contender to become designated developer of the only remaining commercial site at Erie Basin Marina is Birchwood Properties, a Tampa-based firm that specializes in office projects. Birchwood has proposed a two-story, 32,000-square-foot office building, according to Robert Biniszkiewicz of the Buffalo office of Pyramid Brokerage Co.

"This would be their first Buffalo project, but they have national experience in commercial development," said Biniszkiewicz, who is acting as the Florida company's local representative.

The vacant parcel, located at 10-15 La Riviere Drive, between Shanghai Red's and the Waterfront Village office building, has been the target of previous development proposals, but none became a reality.

The Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency will form a review committee in the next few weeks to evaluate the latest proposals, with the goal of selecting a developer in early 2008.


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