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Loan fund shared by city and 5 banks will help keep development on track

In partnership with five local banks, the City of Buffalo has come up with a creative way to speed the reuse of vacant or underused buildings downtown. The timing could hardly be better.

The point of the institutional loan fund, a part of the Buffalo Building Reuse Project, is to help cover otherwise unmanageable costs of rehabilitating and reusing Buffalo’s stock of old buildings. These are structures that may sometimes seem to be eyesores but are, in fact, the latent capital of Buffalo’s attractiveness. This is a city with a durable and, with help, marketable skeleton.

The fund represents a partnership of the Buffalo Urban Development Corp., the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the New York Business Development Corp. and the five banks: Evans Bank, First Niagara Bank, HSBC Bank USA, KeyBank and M&T Bank. The BUDC, a quasi-city agency headed by Mayor Byron W. Brown, will consider and approve all loans while the NYBDC will administer the money, make the actual loans and collect payments.

The timing for this effort is ideal. Buffalo is rebounding quickly and now needs to ensure that its momentum does not falter.

Cities want density. It’s what makes them work and what attracts like-minded people to the energy they create. Achieving that density in an old, Rust Belt city requires making use of long-vacant buildings. In many cases, these are structures that require so much renovation and updating that the costs can’t be plausibly recouped.

The fund offers a creative way to accomplish that goal. Certainly, the demand is there. Area developers are having a field day as they take advantage of the pent-up demand for commercial and living space in Buffalo. But it is in the city’s interest to help them manage redevelopment costs that otherwise disincentivize them from moving forward.

The fund will total $6 million, with half paid by the city and the rest divided up among the five banks. It will focus on residential and mixed-use projects, and while the city already has a program to help with reuse projects, the addition of the banks’ money – secured after months of negotiation and planning – will allow the city to support nearly three times as many projects per year downtown.

It’s a wise use of public funds, which will be used for loans, not grants. In the end, everyone will benefit, especially the newly vibrant city.