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Area business winners and losers in 2010

At least the bleeding pretty much stopped.

That's about the best way to sum up 2010 in the Buffalo Niagara region. The local job market started to stabilize and there were growing signs that business is beginning to pick up a bit, but it's still more like treading water than a recovery.

So while we hope that 2011 will include a turn for the better, here's a look at some of the Buffalo Niagara business community's winners and losers from 2010.

>The winners

*Brian Higgins -- Nobody likes to be the party pooper, but the Buffalo congressman was the one who had the guts to finally put an end to the Bass Pro charade. Higgins told Bass Pro it was time to fish or cut bait after stringing along the region and its waterfront plans for more than six years. Bass Pro chose to cut the line and swam away, allowing the region to move on with revised plans that aren't beholden to a retailer that was losing its cachet and never really wanted to be here.

*M&T -- It's biggest investor, Allied Irish Bank, turned out to be a big loser, but the Irish bank didn't take M&T down with it. M&T stood firm in insisting on staying independent when a Spanish banking giant, Santander, wanted to buy Allied Irish's 22 percent stake.

With Santander spurned, Allied Irish held a stock offering to spread its stake among institutional investors, the best possible outcome for M&T, which then celebrated by going out and buying a troubled Delaware bank, Wilmington Trust, that makes it a much bigger player in the trust business.

*Data centers -- Yahoo opened a data center in Niagara County, while Verizon is making plans to do the same, lured by nearly $600 million in tax breaks and electricity discounts. It's great to bring about 325 21st Century jobs to the region, but at more than $2 million per job in hydropower subsidies and tax breaks, it's a costly endeavor.

>The losers

*Rosa's Home Stores -- The local furniture and electronics chain went the way of AM&A's and L.L Berger when it filed for bankruptcy and quickly arranged for its going out of business sale to begin, the victim of a shrinking market, a weak economy and competition from national chains.

It could have been far worse for Rosa's customers, though, since the bankruptcy agreement protected Rosa's customers, who still can use the more than $430,000 in gift cards, refunds and deposits on orders they made before the filing.

*Statler Towers -- Two different groups tried to buy the grand old hotel this year. One couldn't seal the deal and the other -- local businessmen Mark D. Croce and James J. Eagan -- keeps asking for extensions because it's having trouble lining up more than $5 million in public funds that it says it needs for emergency repairs.

It's all a sign that the Statler really doesn't have a place in a Buffalo office market that already has ample space. But with the alternative being a $15 million bill to tear down the 18-story complex, Croce and Egan's plan to mothball most of it and hope for a market turnaround is probably the Statler's best -- and only -- hope.

*HSBC Center -- Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. Seneca One Realty, the owner of downtown's flagship 38-story office tower, is scrambling to keep its two main tenants, HSBC Bank USA and the Phillips Lytle law firm.

HSBC is thinking about consolidating its city and suburban operations in one place, and one option could be a new building that would be part of the Canal Side project. If HSBC and Philips Lytle move, it likely would put Seneca One into bankruptcy and create a glut of space in the downtown office market.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com