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Loft apartment complex planned for old South Junior High School

NIAGARA FALLS – Several development projects were recently announced for the city, including a $22.3 million plan to convert the 88,000-square-foot former South Junior High School into Niagara City Lofts, a 61-unit apartment complex.

Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo told the City Council on Monday that the sale to developer CB Emmanuel Realty of Lockport was finalized last week and is expected to break ground next month.

“It will generate taxes for the first time in the property’s 94-year history,” Piccirillo told the Council. The plan has been under discussion for several years. Piccirillo said Empire State Development and Neighborhood Housing Services of Niagara Falls were a big part of moving the project forward.

The plan to re-use the 4½-acre site at 561 Portage Road saves the City of Niagara Falls $1.2 million in demolition costs. As part of the agreement, if the project does not go forward the developer – not the city – will be responsible for the demolition costs.

There will be 49 one-bedroom units, 10 two-bedroom units and two studio lofts in the building. The development will also include 18,000 square feet of retail space.

The housing is described as “workforce housing,” geared for young adults just starting careers in workplaces including Seneca Niagara Casino and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

The city received a $5 million New York Restore Grant for the renovation of the property. Piccirillo said that more than $13 million of the $22 million project is privately funded. He noted that the developer has already paid $500,000 in roof repairs and weatherization.

CB Emmanuel also has agreed to allow continued use of the public playground on the property.

Piccirillo said the retail space is not tax exempt. The residential space is eligible for a tax credit, but will still generate $377,000 in taxes over the next 15 years.

The developer must operate the property for the next 15 years to receive the tax credit and must provide a $150,000 grant to improve housing around the property.

In another development matters:

•The Council approved a plan with Ellicott Development Corp. (EDC), which recently purchased the former Niagara Gazette building at 310 Niagara St. EDC received the green light to purchase three adjacent city-owned lots in the 400 block of Fourth Street at a cost of $44,500, minus a credit of $27,000 in demolition and asbestos abatement. As part of the agreement, EDC has agreed to provide a lighted, landscaped walkway between Third and Fourth streets and allow pubic access to the existing parking lot.

• The city officially took ownership Monday of five properties in the 500 block of Third Street, which had been owned by former Niagara Falls physician Pravin Mehta, including his office building at 550 Third St. The deal to give the properties to the city was part of a forfeiture agreement made by Mehta when he pleaded guilty to federal charges of illegally distributing oxycodone and other controlled substances.

The 77-year-old doctor also was forced to forfeit his license to practice. He was sentenced in January to two years in prison.

“Mehta being gone doesn’t mean that someone else can’t come in and try to do something that is harmful to the neighborhood with these properties,” Piccirillo aid after the meeting, adding that the city can search for a responsible owner. He noted there are some very good things happening in the Third Street neighborhood and the city would like to see that continue.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com