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Tax credit rise for historic redevelopment bodes well; Final approval next week in Albany seen as spur for projects in downtown Buffalo

Lawmakers say they have a deal to increase tax breaks for developers to encourage revitalization of dilapidated historic structures, a plan that real estate executives already have said will jump-start long-stalled projects in downtown Buffalo.

The Assembly next week will give final approval to the tax credit legislation, according to sources close to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan. The measure was approved by the State Senate on Tuesday.

The tax credit bill for historic structures was among hundreds of pieces of legislation getting last-minute attention before lawmakers wrap up their 2012 session next week. Several major items remain outstanding, including one on the degree to which teacher evaluations at public schools will be made public.

Lawmakers are pushing to set a specific criminal penalty for cyberbulling -- such as harassing someone via texting. "This is an issue that cuts across party lines," said Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, who is pushing the bill with a couple of New York City Democrats.

But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a radio interview Thursday that toughening criminal laws against teenagers accused of cyberbullying will not be part of an expected deal in the coming days. That deal is expected to include new policies for schools to handle the problem and an awareness campaign.

The tax credit legislation for historic structures raises the amount available to developers for each project to $12 million, from $5 million.

Backers say that it will spur development of run-down buildings -- especially in older upstate cities -- into new uses, from new residential spaces to mixed-used development of commercial and residential projects.

The legislation, though, will have a fiscal impact on the state's budget, and Cuomo has publicly expressed a reluctance to add new cost items to the fiscal plan in the final days of the 2012 legislative session.

But two Buffalo lawmakers say Cuomo told them that he supports the increase in the historic preservation tax credit.

"I believe the governor will sign it, because when I asked him about it, he said he would, so I have no reason to doubt what he said to me. I trust him," said Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, who is among those pushing the legislation.

"The indication was that he understands the need for it, and that it's something he's seriously going to take a look at, and I believe we'll get [it] signed," said Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, R-Buffalo, sponsor of the bill passed in the Senate.

Cuomo's office did not comment.

The cost to the state of the current, smaller tax credit was about $13 million last year, according to Cuomo's budget office. In a Senate memo by Grisanti in support of the measure, it states that the fiscal implication to the state fiscal plan is "to be determined."

"There have been a lot of renovated buildings in downtown Buffalo, but there are a lot more to go," Peoples-Stokes said. "This tax credit provides for developers to take a risk that they normally would not take. We need them taking risks in Buffalo."

Grisanti said the added tax breaks could lure developers to take a look at such buildings as Statler City, the H.H. Richardson Complex, the AM&A's Building and the Central Terminal.

"It means big things for Buffalo," said developer Rocco R. Termini, who said the bill would make his just-completed Hotel @ the Lafayette eligible for additional tax breaks. Besides the AM&A's Building, the tax breaks would help encourage development of the Trico Building and the Hamister Group's mixed-used plans for the Tishman Building, Termini said.

"It will make development a lot easier," he said.

In 2009, the tax credit was raised to a per-project cap of $5 million, from just $100,000. Since then, the tax incentives have helped revitalize such historic properties as the Lafayette and the Webb Lofts in downtown Buffalo.

The higher cap is seen as an incentive for development of larger projects, including in more blighted areas.

"It opens up a bigger market for investors to come in and take care of some of these historic properties," Grisanti said.

Lawmakers are due to end their 2012 session next Thursday.

As happens every year in the frenzied rush to end the legislative session, bills are churning out on every imaginable topic. One measure would permit the state Lottery Division to sell advertising, including during electronic Quick Draw games, as a way to raise "large amounts" of money for the state.

Another would make it harder for insurers to drop home policies for consumers based on the breed of dog they own; many insurers have language against insuring homes that harbor certain dogs, such as pit bull terriers.

The Communications Workers of America is pressing a new bill, sponsored by Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, that would end tax breaks and state contracts for call centers that outsource jobs to other countries.

A report released by the group said that more than 10,000 call center jobs have been lost in New York and New Jersey in the last five years. Call center jobs in New York number about 300,000.