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Two applicants? for harbor lands <br> City of Buffalo, harbor agency both seek to develop 384 acres along waterfront

For months, the City of Buffalo and the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. have stared each other down over competing efforts to become owners of the vast outer harbor lands along Lake Erie.

Now it appears neither will blink, as the city will join the harbor agency by officially applying for sale consideration by the property's current owner, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, in time for Friday's deadline.

But with a new target of Jan. 28 now looming for the NFTA to determine the outer harbor's new owner, it also appears that cooperation, rather than confrontation, will guide the process.

"I'm very confident that whatever form it takes, it is something we can figure out," said Robert D. Gioia, the new chairman of the harbor agency, on Wednesday. "The question is: How can we work together?"

While some observers believed Mayor Byron W. Brown might back off his intention for Buffalo to succeed the NFTA as owner of 384 waterfront acres, spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said this week that City Hall will submit a letter of interest to the authority by Friday.

"The city is in the game," he said.

But as the NFTA aims to end the waterfront ownership role it inherited from its predecessor agency, the Niagara Frontier Port Authority, 58 years ago, it now will set at least some of the ground rules in determining the next owner and how the next owner will function.

Sources close to the process say that could involve some agreement in which the city occupies a seat on the board of the harbor agency.

While Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, is also optimistic that a smooth transition will result, he continues to insist on city ownership. He opposes any more state management and says the city should "control its own destiny."

"I do believe there can be compromise," he said, "but it should be owned by the City of Buffalo."

Kearns pointed to the city's recent management of the downtown Webster Block and the project submitted by the Buffalo Sabres as indicative of its development expertise. But he also said he recognizes the abilities offered by the harbor agency.

Another major player in the waterfront saga – Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo – has advocated takeover of the property by the harbor agency. Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, also has pushed for a role in the process.

The NFTA also invited Erie County and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to express interest. Though state parks advanced a plan to take over and develop the area during the Pataki administration, it abandoned the idea for financial reasons, and it has again told the NFTA that it is not interested.

Peter Anderson, spokesman for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, said Wednesday that the county also has declined to express interest in outer harbor development.

NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer, meanwhile, said authority staff will evaluate both proposals that are expected to land on its desk. He said three criteria will guide staff before presenting a recommendation to the board of commissioners early next year:

*Use of the property.

*How public access will be maximized, enhanced, preserved and protected.

*Purchase price.

"Based on the information we get back," Hartmayer said, "the board will evaluate the proposals and put together a plan for finalizing."

The NFTA aims to pick a new owner for the outer harbor lands Jan. 28; a Friday deadline looms for interested parties to express interest.

It appears that the decision will boil down to two entities: the City of Buffalo and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.

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