Claiming outgoing managers of the Broadway Market are bent on "pillaging" pieces of Buffalo's history, Mayor Byron W. Brown sent city lawyers to court Friday in a bid to block an upcoming auction.
State Supreme Court Judge Timothy Drury granted the city's request for a preliminary injunction that could derail -- at least temporarily -- Thursday's planned sale of many market items.
Brown criticized the management group for announcing the auction, claiming many assets it plans to sell were paid for by taxpayers or donated to the market.
"It seems incredibly mean-spirited the way this thing is being handled by this management corporation," the mayor told reporters Friday as he stood across the street from one of the nation's oldest continually operating public markets.
Both sides are scheduled to appear in court Monday before State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek to discuss a dispute that is mired in acrimony.
When the auction was announced Thursday, the market's outgoing executive director said officials planned on selling signs, awnings, equipment and even a famous Easter Bunny hut. Richard M. Fronczak, market executive director, said his group needs the money to pay creditors.
"Anything that isn't walking, we're selling," he said.
City Corporation Counsel Alisa A. Lukasiewicz called the plan an "outrage" and vowed to take legal action to halt the sale until city property was protected.
The market remains open, but a management overhaul is in the works. Following the lead of Common Council President David A. Franczyk, Brown announced last month that he wants new managers to run the struggling city-owned facility. A temporary management structure will likely be announced next week as the city advertises for a permanent operator.
Lukasiewicz claimed the Broadway Market Management Corp. has failed to follow a law that requires not-for-profit groups to seek court permission before liquidating assets.
Fronczak estimated that the value of the items the group intends to auction could approach $70,000. City officials said many assets were either donated to the market or purchased with government grants. The city further argues that the group is barred from selling any items that are attached to the market, including signs. Neither the market's outgoing executive director nor the group's attorney could be reached to comment.
The president of the Broadway Area Business Association thanked the mayor for launching the court fight. Griffith D. Pritchard, who manages the M&T Bank branch in the market, said it's important to determine ownership of all assets.
"Stopping the auction until we know what the heck is going on is key," Griffith told Brown after Friday's news conference.
Market managers have said the dispute could be easily resolved if the city makes a reasonable offer to buy the group's assets. But city officials counter that until ownership issues are settled, any offer would be imprudent.