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New citizens panel confronts dueling hotel proposals

A lively debate over a proposed waterfront hotel will move into a new arena as soon as a citizens advisory group begins reviewing the controversy.

The 10-member panel includes three waterfront residents, as well as local preservation, history and architectural experts. Common Council President David A. Franczyk made the appointments this week, saying the Waterfront Project Advisory Panel will play a key role in helping lawmakers chart policies on the shoreline.

The first task will involve a review of two competing waterfront hotel proposals, Franczyk announced Thursday. One proposal calls for a $12 million four-story Wingate Inn that would include a retail promenade and other features aimed at creating a "neighborhood" feel. The Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency has embraced the project advanced by Specialty Restaurants Corp. and former Council President James W. Pitts.

The other proposal calls for a $37 million complex consisting of a 10-story hotel with office and retail space. The city agency determined that the project proposed by Ciminelli Development Co. and businessman Mark E. Hamister did not meet height and density requirements.

"But I think the citizens panel should review both proposals," Franczyk said.

Earlier in the process, a review panel made up of some waterfront residents gave higher marks to the Ciminelli proposal.

Developers of the Wingate Inn have redesigned the project to address criticism that a prototype looked more like a suburban expressway interchange hotel. In releasing several redesign options Wednesday, Pitts said developers look forward to meeting with the Council's new advisory group.

The panel will hold its first meeting March 4, Franczyk said. The three waterfront residents on the panel are Sherry DelleBovi, Sue A. Barnes and Frank Lysiak. Other members are Anthony Armstrong, Richard C. Baer, Catherine Faust, Paul L. Herendeen, Tim Tielman, Cynthia Van Ness and Pierre Wallinder.

At least five Council votes would be needed to approve the site's pending sale by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency to developers. If a vote were taken today, some lawmakers predicted, the Wingate Inn proposal would not have enough Council support to move forward.

Five of nine lawmakers recently asked Mayor Byron W. Brown to start from scratch and solicit new development proposals after waterfront zoning codes are updated. Brown rebuffed the request, insisting that developers of the Wingate Inn be given a chance to redesign their proposal.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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