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Judge dismisses suit questioning legality of Canal Side financing

A lawsuit launched in July over the proposed Canal Side waterfront project was dismissed in State Supreme Court on Thursday by Judge Frederick J. Marshall.

None of the petitioners had standing to raise the issues, and even if they did, they were still outside the statute of limitations, the judge decided.

The suit, filed by six plaintiffs -- and led by Mark Goldman, a local businessman, historian and waterfront advocate claimed a direct subsidy offered to Bass Pro Shops by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. violated the state Constitution.

The suit also contended the New York Power Authority ignored its own funding requirements by giving $105 million to the Canal Side Project, and that a vote to do so by Kenneth Schoetz, chairman of the State Economic Development Power Allocation Board and a high-ranking official with Empire State Development Corp., violated the Power Authority's guidelines.

"We are very disappointed that the court chose not to decide any of the legal issues asserted in the lawsuit," said Art Giacalone, the plaintiff's attorney. "The questions we raised concerning the legality of how the project is being financed, and the conflict of interests of one of the major decision-makers, have been left unanswered."

Giacalone said a decision has not been made on whether to appeal the court's decision.

A long-stalled plan to build a Bass Pro store at the site of the razed Memorial Auditorium fizzled completely after the lawsuit was filed.

Jordan Levy, chairman of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., one of the lawsuit's targets, expressed the hope that changes percolating on the waterfront can move forward without legal obstructions.

"I'm glad the court saw fit to throw it out. Hopefully, the parties that were involved will not move forward with any additional litigation, so we can go forward to build a great project on Buffalo's waterfront," Levy said.

Empire State Development Corp. also approved, as expected, changes to the Canal Side plan passed last month by the subsidiary harbor agency. It calls for the building of a portion of the Erie Canal in a more authentic manner, and delays indefinitely the building of a parking ramp.

Levy said the plan will continue to change, and expects new projects to be approved and funded after three board subcommittees make recommendations for the historic district, the Buffalo River and the outer harbor in February.

Projects that have been discussed include erecting tents for a marketplace, creating a 120-acre park on the outer harbor, providing additional boat slips and marina services and building a pavilion near the Commercial Wharf.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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