Niagara Gazette

July 11, 2013

Judge names referee to oversee effort to reopen Community Center

By Mark Scheer mark.scheer@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A court-approved referee has been assigned to oversee an ongoing effort to reopen a condemned North End community center.

Adam Perry, a partner with the Buffalo law firm, Hodgson Russ, was selected for the job Tuesday by state Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso. 

Attorneys involved an an ongoing legal dispute over the association that operates the Niagara Community Center on Centre Avenue acknowledged Perry’s appointment following a meeting with Caruso in his chambers. William Maldovan, a lawyer who is representing the state Attorney General’s Office as the matter proceeds, also participated in Tuesday’s session. 

Perry declined comment immediately following the meeting. 

His father, Sanford Perry, was a long-time director at the center, which closed in 2008 and has since been condemned by city inspectors. 

Falls lawyer Robert Restaino, who represents the plaintiffs in the court case, and Buffalo attorney Steve Pigeon, who represents the defendants, confirmed Perry’s appointment following the meeting in Caruso’s chambers. Both Restaino and Pigeon characterized Perry as a highly professional and ethical attorney whose family’s previous history with the facility made him an appropriate choice for the job. 

“I believe he can be a neutral referee,” Pigeon said. 

The community center traces its roots back to 1928 where it once operated on Erie Avenue as recreational space serving mostly neighborhood youths. Operations moved to the Centre Avenue location in 1952. Center operations have for years been overseen by the Niagara Community Center Association — a non-profit group headed by a board consisting of city residents who are elected by due-paying members. 

Since the building’s closure, several local pastors and residents have called upon current board members to either take steps to reopen the facility or step down so others could assume leadership roles.

In April, a pair of Falls residents claiming to have standing as association board members filed a lawsuit seeking to dissolve the group amid concerns about its assets. Members of the current board — six of which are named as defendants in the case — have consistently said that they have been working on plans to reopen the facility, including efforts to raise funds needed to install new, more energy efficient heating and cooling systems.

Restaino and Pigeon have agreed to work with the court and the attorney general’s office in an attempt to work out the differences between the two parties. 

Perry’s first assignment will be to hire a private firm to conduct an assessment of the building’s condition. Restaino and Pigeon said the completed analysis will be used to determine how best to approach the redevelopment of the center, that is if the review finds that the condemned building is still useable. 

While the assessment is being carried out, Restaino, Pigeon and Maldovan will, under Caruso’s oversight, continue the process of reorganizing operational aspects of the center. They said they’ll start with re-establishing the association’s by-laws and a drive to solicit new members.

The existing by-laws call for the association to be represented by a board consisting of individuals chosen during an annual vote of all due-paying members.

Restaino and Pigeon said they are both in agreement that one of the first orders of business needs to be establishment of consistent protocols for paying and collecting membership dues as well holding annual elections for association directors. 

“We’re working on a timeline for establishment of new members for the purposes of electing a new board of directors,” Restaino said. 

Both attorneys said current association directors will not be precluded from participating in the process. They also indicated that the goal of the membership drive will be to make it as inclusive as possible. 

All attorneys involved in the case are scheduled to return to court with an update on their progress by Aug. 19. Their goal is to hold a new election for association board members by this fall. 

“We’re going to do something that hasn’t been done in a while and that’s try to move this forward,” Restaino said. 

Mug of Restaino - NIA Restaino mug 071113 Robert Restaino Moving issue forward