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Several area developers may bid for Trico building Property is part of McGarvey estate

The late Stephen B. McGarvey struggled for years to keep up with property taxes on the former Trico windshield wiper plant and the other Buffalo properties he planned to redevelop.

Now a year after his death, the problems of unpaid taxes and development inertia persist.

According to Buffalo Assessment and Taxation Commissioner Bruna Michaux, McGarvey's estate currently owes the city $343,009 in back taxes and penalties. Three of his eight Buffalo properties are slated to be auctioned by the city in October due to non-payment of taxes dating back to 2004.

"He's back on the "in rem" list again," Michaux said. "He's current on a couple, but owes 2005-2006 taxes on most of them, and is two years behind on the three others."

Among the properties that could be auctioned off if no one steps forward to pay the tax bills is the sprawling wiper plant at 791 Washington St.

The complex, which totals more than 700,000 square feet of space, includes a large six-story manufacturing building and a four-story structure. McGarvey acquired the buildings in 1999 with ambitious plans to convert them to a mix of residential and commercial space, but financial difficulties blocked his progress.

The other two McGarvey properties which will be auctioned off this fall if property taxes remain unpaid are: 589 Ellicott St., a five-acre parking lot adjacent to the idle industrial complex, and 821 Washington St., another parking lot.

This marks the third time the properties have faced the possibility of public auction to recoup back taxes. On the eve of the October 2002 auction a court issued a stay of sale so he could work out a repayment plan. In 2004, McGarvey faced a pile of unpaid city property taxes totaling $491,909. Those tax bills were brought up to date just ahead of the planned auction.

McGarvey died last February following complications from a childhood accident which left him paralyzed. At the time of his death, the Erie, Pa.-based entrepreneur had been working with Amherst's Ciminelli Development Co. toward a $40 million joint effort to bring the sprawling former windshield wiper plant back to life.

Ciminelli Chief Executive Paul Ciminelli said despite the local company's continued interest in converting the two main Trico buildings to office use, McGarvey's complicated estate, which faces numerous debt claims, has stymied any development.

"At this point there's no way to get clear title. That's an insurmountable problem in getting in there to do what needs to be done there," Ciminelli said. "It's a shame. It's an intriguing redevelopment opportunity."

In fall 2004, Ciminelli announced it would assume a 50 percent ownership stake in the Trico complex leading to a $40 million transformation of the buildings into state-of-the-art office space. In addition to retrofitting the buildings, they also planned to develop a huge parking garage on the surface lot at 589 Ellicott St.

The Trico site, which has been remained Century Centre I, has long been viewed as a diamond in the rough due to its expansive floor plans which could accommodate tenants requiring as much as 80,000-square-feet per floor.

The combination of large "suburban style" floor plans, on-site parking and proximity to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus could make the refurbished space a hot ticket on the commercial real estate market.

However, time, weather and deferred maintainance have taken a toll on the Trico buildings, which have state and national historic landmark status. A portion of the roof on the six-story building is now gone, leaving the structure open to the elements.

McGarvey had faced heat from former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello who put the languishing properties on a list of city buildings whose potential was being needlessly sapped by owner neglect. Masiello threatened eminent domain proceedings to end the redevelopment stalemate, but backed down when Ciminelli entered the picture.

McGarvey's Signature Management LLC, which had handled his properties here and in Erie, Pa., has been replaced by Altair Management LLC, also based in Erie, as the firm in charge of day-to-day oversight of the real estate portfolio.

Altair General Manager Chuck Peters acknowledged that resolution of McGarvey's estate remains a hurdle in figuring out the next step for the Buffalo properties.

"The estate has been working with several interested parties to determine the best outcome, including sale of all of Steve's Buffalo portfolio or individual properties," Peters said.

The manager also said it is unlikely they'll end up on the block at the city's tax foreclosure auction.

"I'm pretty confident there will be some form of resolution before next fall. I can't imagine these properties will end up in a tax sale," he said.

Local commercial real estate sources said several Buffalo area developers have toured the buildings and are likely to put in offers when the McGarvey estate is in a position to sell.

In addition to the Trico complex, McGarvey's holding also included the former M. Wile plant, now called Century Centre II, at 77 Goodell St. The developer was successful in converting that building to office use and it is 70 percent leased.

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