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Croce asks agency to scuttle parking lot deal with Paladino

Developer Mark D. Croce is fighting back at his loudest critic.

Croce is asking a city agency to scrap a deal it has in place with developer Carl P. Paladino for a proposal at what is now a downtown parking lot.

In a letter to the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, Croce alleges that Paladino has defaulted on an agreement to develop 50 Court St. and that the redevelopment opportunity should be put out to bid.

"This publicly owned parcel has essentially been the subject of an exclusive option for one favored developer since 2003," Croce wrote to the agency.

The downtown market for office space has changed since the agency and Paladino entered into an agreement, and the parking crunch downtown needs to be considered, said Croce, who added that the site could be used to extend the city-owned Fernbach Ramp on Pearl Street.

Paladino recently announced his Ellicott Development Co. will be moving forward with a downsized project at the site, which is on the corner of Pearl and Court streets and owned by the Urban Renewal Agency. Ellicott owns a parking lot at 30 Court St.

The revised, seven-story office building may include a hotel, Paladino wrote.

Paladino tabled a proposal for an eight-story office building in 2009, and the latest plan is at least the third version of the project.

The renewal agency agreed in 2006 to sell the site to Ellicott for $700,000, a move that was delayed by lawsuits filed by the owners of Main Place Mall.

Croce alleges Paladino did not submit an extension of plans and proof of financing by a 2009 deadline, which he said puts him into default.

In his letter, Croce also warns against building more office space, since the decision to do so was made 10 years ago, and the city may not need more Class A office space.

"Development of new office space may only cause disruption in the market of currently existing properties struggling to survive," Croce wrote.

When reached by phone Thursday, Paladino said he had heard about Croce's letter.

"We're not concerned with him," Paladino said. "The city's got to do the right thing" and he expects it will do so, he said.

Paladino has been critical of a $5.3 million state grant passed through the city for Croce's Statler City project.

Paladino has called the grant an unfair "selective subsidy," which was not open to others because there was no application process for the money.

Paladino said again Thursday that he plans to file for an injunction to stop the money from being transferred for Croce's Statler project.