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Paladino shares Webster Block dream; Pedestrian-friendly project would include retail shops, hidden parking and wide sidewalks

The city will decide between two very different visions of what a prime piece of downtown real estate should become, as a major developer unveiled his plan for the property on Friday.

Carl P. Paladino and his team are pitching plans for a new hotel, apartments, office space, shops and a restaurant for a 1.7-acre parcel known as the Webster Block, located just steps from the inner harbor.

Webster Block LLC, a partnership in which Paladino and his Ellicott Development has a 50 percent stake, will compete against a proposal from the Buffalo Sabres, which calls for two ice rinks, a hotel and a parking garage.

Webster Block LLC is a partnership between Ellicott and Castle & Mosey LLC, owned by Joseph Mosey and Joel Castlevetere.

The city sought bids for development of a parking lot just north of the Sabres' home at First Niagara Center. Bids were due last week. The city plans to select a winner by Aug. 15 and would like to see construction begin next spring.

"We're hoping they look at everything objectively," Paladino said. "We're well qualified to do it."

The mixed-use development Paladino described would cost more than $60 million and break down the large parcel into two smaller blocks, making the area more friendly to pedestrians and connecting people to the nearby waterfront.

The development would blend in with the surrounding buildings and contribute to the pedestrian activity in the area, while providing much-needed parking, said architect Charles Gordon.

The project would include 42 apartments, a hotel with 140 rooms and suites and 110,000 square feet of office space, including 75,000 square feet on a single floor. If the market for downtown office space doesn't improve by the time construction begins, the office floor could be eliminated, Paladino said.

It also would feature more than 1,000 parking spaces in a ramp that would not be visible from the ground floor, in an effort to prevent the development from looking like a parking garage from the street. About 850 spaces would be available to the public; the rest would be reserved for residents and hotel guests.

The parking structure would be privately funded. The city had offered to fund a parking facility, but Paladino said it would get too complicated to reserve the spaces for office workers.

The development calls for the creation of a new street, between Main and Washington streets, which would be covered about 25 feet above by the upper floors of the development, which would offer cover for hotel guests exiting their cars. It would also offer more street-level views of the water.

Though the structure would be essentially one building, it would have different exteriors on different sides and different heights -- 12 stories at the highest point -- giving the appearance of several buildings.

The sidewalks would be about 20 feet wide, which planners said would encourage pedestrian traffic.

A bid from Sabres owner Terry Pegula and his wife, Kim, includes two indoor rinks at the top of a parking garage, a 200-room hotel, a sports bar and ground-level retail space.

The project would fit in with the Cobblestone District, Michael Gilbert, Sabres' vice president of public and community relations, said earlier this week. Gilbert described the Sabres' proposal as being in the "very advanced" planning stages.

A third proposal was received by the city but is not backed by a developer who could fund it.