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Give hotel plan a chance, mayor urges

Developers of a widely criticized plan to build what some call a "suburban-style" hotel on the downtown waterfront should be given a chance to submit new designs, Mayor Byron W. Brown insisted Thursday.

Pulling the plug on the project without letting the process "run its course" could trigger lawsuits and hurt future development efforts, Brown administration officials warned.

The mayor rebuffed a request by a majority of Common Council members to rescind an action that designated Specialty Restaurants Corp. and former Council President James W. Pitts as the developers of a proposed Wingate Inn. Rescinding the action that was taken in December by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency could cause long-term fallout, Brown argued.

"It leads to a lack of confidence by developers that they can rely on board action as they commit resources to a project," Brown said during an agency meeting.

But Council President David A. Franczyk said he holds out little hope that a redesign of the $10 million hotel for city-owned land at Erie Basin Marina would win enough support on the Council.

"Some of us may remember that [movie] 'Dead Man Walking' some years ago. This could be like 'Dead Project Walking,' " Franczyk said, hinting that it might take a miracle for the hotel to win Council support.

Brown is not convinced the project is doomed, saying the movie title "Miracle on 34th Street" might more aptly foreshadow its fate. That's when Brown evoked the words so often uttered by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. "Keep hope alive," the mayor said.

South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, chairman of the Waterfront Committee, said he thinks the process should start from Square One, but only after the city revises outdated zoning codes. He noted that a competing project that was rejected by the agency received higher marks from an advisory panel comprising waterfront residents than the Wingate plan received.

"There has been an outcry by the public that we don't want a suburban-style hotel on our waterfront," Kearns said.

Brown repeatedly said he thinks that some valid concerns have been raised. But he said the project must go through numerous additional steps before it faces final approval. The Council and the Planning Board still must take action, and plans will be aired in public hearings.

"There are several layers," Brown told critics of the project, "and all of these concerns that you're raising can be completely aired out -- can be completely debated."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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