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HUD IS SLOW WITH FUNDS FOR 2 EAST SIDE PROJECTS

The federal government has twice said it would help Buffalo provide better shopping in its inner city neighborhoods.

And the Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue has opened its doors and the Central Park Plaza has attracted new tenants such as Save-A-Lot. But they've had to do it before the government approved their loan or grant applications and without those anticipated federal funds.

It's not a question of "if" the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will approve the projects, city officials said, but a question of "when."

Tops has been waiting more than two years for a $500,000 grant.

The owners of Central Park Plaza have been waiting four months for a $2.4 million loan. The city warned the owners that the way they structured part of the deal may not meet HUD's approval, but only last week did the agency send a letter requesting changes.

Normally it takes about 30 to 45 days for HUD to approve an application, said Timothy E. Wanamaker, executive director of the city's office of strategic planning.

While the delay did not impact the construction or opening of Tops, the lack of money has meant that the Central Park Plaza had to convince tenants to lease space even though the plaza looks run down, neglected and uninviting to customers.

"It's not that the city and HUD haven't been trying," said Samuel Savarino, president and CEO of Savarino Construction Services. "I just wish it would happen faster."

Savarino, along with Bob Quinn of Q&D Management, are redeveloping the plaza. The $2.4 million would go toward repaving the parking lot, new lighting, a new facade, replacing the roof, adding security cameras, new signs and landscaping. The plan had always called for the owners to pay to remodel the Save-A-Lot space and make other tenant improvements.

And until HUD approves that loan, they can't get a $770,000 grant from HUD. And they can't get $500,000 promised by the county and $500,000 from the state.

"It's frustrating," Savarino said.

HUD did not make anyone available to comment on either project. A HUD official did send an e-mail giving the status of both applications.

The Central Park Plaza application is more complicated than most of the projects the city asks HUD to fund.

"If you had a new owner coming in, acquiring the plaza and rehabilitating it, this deal would be done already," Wanamaker said. "But since you have the same owner, some financing remaining in place and issues of equity, it makes it more difficult."

The funds may not be released for Central Park Plaza until some time next year. However, Tops may get its money within the next month, Wanamaker said.

HUD has taken so long to approve the Tops grant because the agency originally gave the city the money in 1987 for a manufacturing company to expand. HUD discontinued the program, but let the city keep the money and use it for another project.

Tops was not anxious to talk about the delay.

"The only comment we would make is that we recognize that it's an arduous process," said spokeswoman Stefanie Zakowicz. "It's a very complicated process, but we are ever so grateful to the city, county and state for supporting our project on the East Side."

e-mail: lhaarlander@buffnews.com

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