A businessman says he's put on hold a proposed waterfront development because City of Tonawanda Mayor Rick Davis delayed the project for two years and cursed at him twice while tossing him out of his City Hall office.
Davis admitted Monday he did swear at Michael Hacikyan, but not until after the developer released a profanity-laced tirade at him. And Davis said he has gone to extraordinary lengths to try to move forward a project that has languished for five years.
Hacikyan's Canal Side Development LLC planned to redevelop the former HSBC Bank at 6 Main St. on the Erie Canal.
But during the stormy Feb. 23 meeting at City Hall, he told Davis that as long as Davis is the mayor, he would not invest a single dollar in the building, according to a letter mailed to The Buffalo News by Hacikyan's attorney, Deborah Chadsey, a partner in Kavinoky Cook.
"My client wants to make the public aware of the behavior (of the mayor) which he finds unacceptable and he wants some kind of apology and hopefully someone else in government is available to help him with his issues," wrote Chadsey, in a letter she also sent to members of the Tonawanda Common Council, a county legislator and a state assemblyman.
Hacikyan, who also is the president of Aquasol Corp., an industrial manufacturing company in North Tonawanda that sells products in 90 countries, bought the 9,210-square-foot building at Main and Niagara streets in 2012 for $731,000, according to city records. Chadsey said her client has invested $1.6 million into the property.
"Rick has always been diplomatic dealing with other people," Third Ward Councilman Sean Rautenstrauch said of the mayor. "It would surprise me very much if he was that confrontational."
Raustenstrauch said there has been a lot of questions from people who want to know what is going to happen with the former HSBC Bank building, but he's never seen any plans. Common Council members on Monday said they have heard very little about the project, except for some preliminary plans for an upscale restaurant or nightclub.
Davis said Hacikyan has had a "lot of grandiose plans," from a brewery to a restaurant with rooftop deck or with a deck extending out into the canal.
According to Chadsey, the dispute between Hacikyan and the mayor began after the businessman asked Davis to help persuade Verizon to remove a utility pole from the property and bury the phone lines underground. On his own, Hacikyan had convinced National Grid and Time Warner to agree to move underground other utility lines going to the property. Chadsey said Hacikyan only wanted the city to reach out to Verizon and help arrange a meeting. But phone calls and emails to the mayor's office went unanswered for a year, Chadsey said.
That's not how Davis recalls it.
Davis said Verizon wanted $35,000 to bury the phone lines. Davis said Tonawanda officials contacted Verizon on Hacikyan's behalf to try and get the fee waived, but Verizon rejected that. The city also went to Empire State Development and Assemblyman Robin Schimminger's office to seek funding. That effort also was unsuccessful.
Davis said on at least two occasions the mayor's office sent out an email to try and set up a meeting with Canal Side LLC and Verizon. Davis said those emails went unanswered.
On Feb. 1, the city sent Hacikyan a notice that 6 Main St. was in violation of city building codes. Davis said the violation notice came from the code enforcement officer, not the mayor's office. The violations were unrelated to the Verizon issue. They involved peeling paint and a main electrical line which was separating from the building, Davis said.
"The building has been sitting there for five years and it's starting to deteriorate," said Davis.
He said he called for the Feb. 23 meeting at City Hall with Hacikyan to find out what was happening with the building. Davis said that at the meeting Hacikyan asked the city to pay the $35,000 fee to Verizon. Davis said he rejected that because it would be a form of "corporate welfare."
Chadsey told The Buffalo News that her client said the meeting started out very confrontational, and Davis accused Hacikyan of asking for handouts, which offended her client.