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Tax breaks for Paladino are rejected by ECIDA

Carl P. Paladino’s support of Joseph A. Mascia in the wake of Mascia’s racist comments last month ended up carrying a big price.

Paladino’s Ellicott Development failed to muster enough support from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency on Wednesday to win $216,500 in tax breaks that the developers were seeking for their $4.9 million project to convert the vacant School 56 on West Delavan Avenue into 33 apartments.

IDA board member Frank B. Mesiah, president of the NAACP chapter in Buffalo, led the opposition to the tax breaks, citing Paladino’s comments last month in support of Mascia, who was recorded using the N-word to describe several local African-American politicians.

“I would vote against anything connected with Carl Paladino because he’s quick to show where he stands racially,” Mesiah said.

While the developers have agreed to 30 percent targets for women and minorities in both the project’s workforce and contractor base, Mesiah said, Paladino’s comments raised doubts about how sincere the developers were about meeting those goals.

Ellicott Development noted that Paladino’s son, William, is the company’s CEO and in charge of day-to-day operations. Carl Paladino is Ellicott’s chairman.

Despite Mesiah’s criticism, the School 56 conversion project had broad support among the members of the IDA board who attended Wednesday’s meeting, but it fell one vote short of mustering enough support to obtain the tax breaks that it was seeking.

“That is why people like Frank Mesiah should not be serving in responsible positions where his personal feelings interfere with doing the work of the people,” Carl Paladino said.

The IDA board voted, 9-2, in favor of the project with the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, the Common Council president and one of the targets of Mascia’s comments, abstaining.

That left the project one vote shy of the 10 “yes” votes that it needed to obtain the tax breaks. John J. Mudie, president of the Buffalo AFL-CIO Labor Council, cast the other vote against the tax breaks.

Ellicott Development, which is working with another Buffalo developer, Sinatra & Co., on the project, also was a victim of bad timing.

The vote came on a day when just 12 of the IDA’s 19 board members attended the meeting. Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, who also was a target of Mascia’s comments, did not attend the meeting, but he previously had voiced support for both the project and the tax breaks.

Had Brown been at the meeting and voted in favor of the tax breaks, the incentives would have been approved.

Robert G. Murray, the IDA’s attorney, said that Ellicott Development could resubmit the project to the IDA but that it would have to be materially different from the proposal that was voted on Wednesday, either in scope or composition.

“The board had barely a quorum,” Paladino said. “We’ll ask for a reconsideration, and if not, explore whether we can sue for the board being selective in the application of its discretion.”

The project would convert the 69,000-square-foot former school building into 33 apartments, with rents ranging from $850 to $2,195 a month.

The project, with apartments ranging from one-bedroom units as small as 515 square feet to three-bedroom units as large as 1,325 square feet, also would include 10,000 square feet of space on the ground floor and basement that would be used for nonprofit groups.

Ellicott Development also is expected to seek property tax breaks through a program administered by the City of Buffalo, along with historic tax credits.

Pridgen said after the meeting that the failure of the project to obtain tax breaks sent a huge message about racial tolerance. He also said he thought that converting the school into apartments was “a good project.”

Board member Betty Jean Grant, an Erie County legislator from Buffalo, also voiced her disdain for Paladino’s support for Mascia but said she voted in favor of the tax breaks “with a heavy heart” because of the benefits to the community of making apartments in a school building that has been vacant for four years.

“Sometimes, you have to separate the interests of the city, which needs redevelopment,” Grant said. “He can be dealt with in the political arena.”

Richard Lipsitz Jr., an IDA board member and president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation, said the project’s impact trumped the political and ethical considerations raised by Mesiah.

“This is the ECIDA,” he said. “The mayor wants this project. It puts a building back on the tax rolls.”