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Rivals attack selection of hotel design Ciminelli, Hamister consider lawsuit

The team that developed the losing proposal for a Buffalo waterfront hotel is blasting the selection process as "a travesty" and raising the possibility of a lawsuit.

Executives of Ciminelli Development Co. and the Hamister Group are speaking out for the first time since the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency rejected their $37 million 10-story hotel-retail blueprint in favor of a $10 million, four-level hotel.

"There's a complete disconnect between the selection process as it was explained to us and the criteria used to select the winning project," said Paul F. Ciminelli, Ciminelli president. "Somewhere, the process took a left turn, and the rules changed."

In its Dec. 4 vote, the renewal agency's board, of which Mayor Byron W. Brown is chairman, cited a four-story height restriction at Erie Basin Marina as a prime reason for rejecting the Ciminelli/Hamister plan.

Mark E. Hamister said his team initially accepted defeat but has become "outraged" as the winning group has been allowed to overhaul its proposal two months after it was selected. Late last week, former Common Council President James W. Pitts, who is partnering with the owners of Shanghai Red's restaurant on the winning waterfront hotel project, unveiled four alternative designs, including a five-story version.

"As first we sat back and said, 'OK, we lost' and kept our mouths shut," Hamister said. "But we can't sit silent on the sidelines while our competition has been allowed to completely redesign their project."

The selection of the less-elaborate project has created a deep divide between a group of city lawmakers and Brown's administration. It has also raised the ire of Waterfront Village residents who were involved in evaluating the proposals and gave higher scores to the larger, more diverse Ciminelli/Hamister plan.

A contingent of five Council members, led by Council President David A. Franczyk, has vocally opposed the proposal from J.W. Pitts Properties and Development/Specialty Restaurants Corp. Last week, Francyzk announced formation of a 10-member citizens panel to review the selection and re-examine the competing waterfront development proposals.

Ciminelli said that, as events unfolded, the process clearly was "unfairly skewed toward one project" and the decision "was not based on a comparison of the relative merits" of the two projects.

The Ciminelli-Hamister group also confirmed it is exploring its legal options.

"We've asked our legal counsel to review the obligations of the city under the request for proposals process and the rights of a party working in good faith to submit plans," Hamister said.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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