It’s only a sign.
Still, those most closely involved in the effort to build a new public safety complex in the Falls say the unveiling last week of a sign indicating that north Main Street is the site of the project is proof that issues that had threatened to stop the largest non-casino construction project in the city in a decade, can now be overcome.
“I hope this stirs some optimism in the community,” Mayor Vince Anello said, “and gives the businesses here some hope.”
Just three weeks ago, the project appeared to be falling apart. Efforts to negotiate an agreement between the city and designated developer, Ciminelli Development Company, had ground to a halt amid charges and counter charges that both sides were throwing up roadblocks.
Kevin Greiner, Ciminelli’s senior development project manager, sent a highly critical letter to Anello and members of the City Council accusing the mayor and his aides of failing to negotiate in “good faith.”
Anello responded by saying the city’s attorneys had neither the time nor the expertise to negotiate the contract and he said he would not sign a draft agreement that Ciminelli had proposed because of penalty fees that were included in it.
The mayor also said he needed additional details on the cost of the project and its time frame.
City lawmakers, who said they were “blind sided” by the news the project was coming apart, stepped in after a heated exchange between Anello and Ciminelli representatives at a late January Council meeting. The Council said it would set up an advisory committee to shepherd the project forward, while also approving the hiring of attorney James Roscetti to assist the city in its negotiations with Ciminelli.
At the sign raising Friday, Greiner said the project was back on track.
“We have made some very good progress with the city and the courts,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of good work. The deal is shaping up.”
Anello agreed with that assessment.
“The fact that we’re talking and (the city’s) lawyer is negotiating with (Ciminelli’s) lawyer and we don’t have what was being said five or six weeks ago, is certainly progress,” the mayor said. “I’m looking forward to having a contract that protects the residents and taxpayers of Niagara Falls. That’s been my goal all along and I’m confident we’ll have one.”
Greiner revealed that Ciminelli has now begun making offers to property owners in the project area.
“(The project) is proceeding now at about full speed,” he said. “It’s a sign of good will and that people are committed to making this go forward.”
The project manager also welcomed the creation of the advisory committee. A council resolution to authorize the group of seven members — three appointed by the mayor, three appointed by the council and one by the Main Street Business and Professional Association — was approved at last week’s regular council meeting.
“You (as a developer) need really good community input on this and expert input as well,” Greiner said. “The best advice the city has available will help us. Committees like these are common on projects like these across the country.”
Council Chairman Charles Walker, who championed the creation of the advisory committee, said the board will ensure that any problems with the project are immediately identified and dealt with.
“I think (the committee) will bring to the table advice,” Walker said. “As different ideas and agreements come up, they can advise the council on whether it’s a good way or not a good way to go. If something is falling apart, we’ll know about it now, not three months from now..”
The council resolution creating the committee specifies that the members have “professional experience in areas such as engineering, construction, finance, jurisprudence and government.” Walker said the council is ready to name its members.
“We’re ready, we’re ready,” he said. “We’re just waiting for the mayor.”
Anello has indicated he hopes to have his recommendations ready by the end of the week.
“What I’m looking for is objective, professionals, that don’t have an agenda, other than what is best for the city of Niagara Falls,” he said.
The mayor indicated that some potential committee members have expressed concern about how much time the group’s work will take. Still, he said, he believes he can find quality committee candidates.
Walker also said that meetings between representatives of the council, the state courts, the developer and the mayor will continue, every two weeks until the project is completed.
“I believe we are on the right path now,” the council chair said.
The stakes are high for the city to get shovels in the ground on the project, which Ciminelli estimates could cost as much as $37 million.
The state Unified Court System’s Office of Court Administration has threatened to withhold millions of dollars in state aid, including some not connected to court operations, if the city does not address overcrowded and deteriorated conditions at the current Hyde Park Boulevard public safety building.
It’s only a sign.
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