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Developer, despite opposition, pushes Wingate Inn Hotel plan has critics in Common Council

Despite warnings that the project will "wither on the vine," the developer of a controversial waterfront hotel proposal vows to proceed with a redesign.

A Wingate Inn can be built on the waterfront that will be compatible with the "broader vision for the waterfront," the chief executive officer of the California-based Specialty Restaurants Corp. said.

Howard Bell announced that he has hired Zyscovich Architects, a firm with offices in New York City and Florida, to redesign the $10 million project. "We have responded to Mayor [Byron W.] Brown and others who have asked us to take a step back and do a through review of the hotel design to ensure it works with the broader vision for the waterfront," Bell stated in a written statement.

Developers have listened to those who raised concerns about the initial prototype of the four-story hotel that would be built near the corporation's Shanghai Red's restaurant along the Erie Basin Marina, Bell said.

In fact, Brown has never publicly stated that the developers should "take a step back." However, Brown's communications chief said Thursday the mayor was cognizant of the fact that the prototype that won the backing of Buffalo's main development agency was always a conceptual design that would be refined in later phases.

"The mayor has said in the past that he looks forward to seeing a design for this project that will be unique to that particular location," said Peter K. Cutler.

Specialty Restaurants is partnering with former Common Council President James W. Pitts on the Wingate project. Most Council members, some local architects and waterfront residents have criticized the plan, claiming its "suburban-type" design isn't suitable for the developing shoreline. Many prefer a $37 million competing proposal for a 10-story mixed-use complex that would include a hotel, offices and retail space. The competing plan was advanced by Ciminelli Development Co. and businessman Mark E. Hamister. The Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency rejected the plan because it ignored height and density restrictions.

Most Council members have gone on record asserting that a "fatally flawed" process should begin anew. Lawmakers said new proposals should be sought only after officials review what some have branded antiquated zoning restrictions.

Council President David A. Franczyk was asked about Bell's vow to proceed with the Wingate Hotel concept.

"Changing the design doesn't change the overall equation," said Franczyk, reaffirming his belief that the Council will oppose the Wingate Inn.

Franczyk said he will soon appoint an advisory panel made up preservationists, architects, waterfront residents and other community leaders to help the city review future development on waterfront parcels.

A different developer built a four-story Wingate Inn in Ellicottville several years ago. While some critics complained it obstructs views of the ski hill, village officials said Thursday most were pleased with the final design. They credited Ellicott Development Co. for working with the community to refine design features.

"They constructed it pretty much to our tastes," said Nancy Rogan, who chairs the village's Planning Board. "They brought in all the architectural materials, including the siding and colors. They wanted our input."

Ellicottville Town Supervisor John Burrell said that while not everyone may agree, he thinks the finished product is a "wonderful fit" in the town.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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