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4 lawsuits seek damages on proposed canalboat replica

Michael R. Weekes of Buffalo has filed four lawsuits over the apparent demise of his plan to build a replica Erie Canal packet boat in Lockport.

Small-claims cases against the city, the Niagara County Historical Society, the Dale Association and local tourism promoter Jay C. Krull are to be heard May 17 by City Judge Thomas M. DiMillo.

Weekes is seeking $5,000 in damages from each of the four defendants.

"The hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars I spent on materials are easily worth $20,000," Weekes said.

But he acknowledged Tuesday that he never had a written contract with anyone involved.

As for the city, Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said, "There was never a letter, never a proposal and certainly not a contract, nor was there any resolution from the Common Council authorizing the mayor to sign any agreement. I believe the mayor informed the gentleman [Weekes] it was a nice idea for the city."

The partially built hull of the "Pride of the Erie Canal" still rests inside a former billiard hall on Lock Street, where work was suspended in January.

The Dale Association, a not-for-profit human services agency, owns the building but decided in January that Weekes would have to leave because he refused to pay a $450 bill for electric upgrades.

Weekes insisted that his agreement with the Dale Association included a commitment for the association to pay the bill.

He's suing the city for "failure to pay promised support to development, construction, marketing of Pride of Erie Canal packet boat project," court papers say.

The claim against the association refers to "failure to execute [and] provide dwelling associated with manufacture of canal boat."

Linda L. Van Buskirk, president of the Dale Association, said, "No locks have been changed. He's been given two opportunities to come and get everything, and he didn't do it."

The historical society and Douglas V. Farley, director of development, are accused of "failure to deliver support programming."

"It's unfortunate that he feels that way," Farley said.

The suit against Krull accuses him of "failure to perform marketing, fundraising and community relations activities."

Krull declined to comment on the suit, saying that he has "documentation" to defend himself.

Weekes said he applied to Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. in February, seeking permission to build the boat on a slope opposite the Commercial Slip in Buffalo.

Corporation spokesman Erich S. Weyant said Tuesday that a rejection letter was sent to Weekes March 13.

Weekes said the negative publicity about the boat deal led Upstate New York Transplant Services to fire him from a position as vice president. An official of the organization who asked not to be identified said that Weekes worked there briefly but denied that his departure had anything to do with the boat.

Weekes' proposal to build the boat, announced Nov. 29, envisioned spending $40,000 of his own money on the 36-foot craft.

The replica of a 19th century packet boat was to cruise the canal with Weekes and his girlfriend aboard, offering rides to visitors to Lockport, Buffalo and the Tonawandas.

Weekes said he would drop the lawsuits if the defendants help him finish the boat.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com