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New request for tax breaks at Trico offers a chance to reassess the project

It may be time to re-evaluate the plan to reuse the old Trico building, which sits at the edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus yet defies efforts at renovation.

The most recent in a seemingly endless series of delays is the request by Krog Corp. for $3.6 million in new tax breaks for what is, to be sure, a complicated project. The company has already received historic tax credits for the property, which is on both the state and national registers of historic places.

But now, Krog says it needs additional considerations in its plan to develop the sprawling complex of buildings. The project’s cost has ballooned to $90.5 million, it says – that’s up from previous estimates of $50 million – and requires help from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to save $3.16 million in sales tax costs and $502,500 in mortgage recording fees.

It is entirely possible that the additional help is needed and appropriate, but leaders of the ECIDA should take a deep breath before approving it. This is an economic question as much as it is one of historic preservation.

Specifically, the building is at the edge of one of the most economically robust districts in all of Western New York: the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The question isn’t really if the Trico building will be redeveloped, but when. Perhaps that time is now, and despite several delays, Krog seems genuinely committed to the project. The question for taxpayers and the leaders of the ECIDA is how much public support is needed for this project at this time.

It may be that Krog has a good case. The Trico project is a complex one that includes the structure of the buildings, the condition they are in and the historic designations, which limit the possibilities for radically altering them or starting anew.

It’s also true that the city desires restoration, and that the city’s plentiful supply of old and vacant buildings has been a bonanza for developers, residents and the city tax rolls. Trico could be a part of that virtuous trend.

But the question is how much more money taxpayers should be asked to fork over to support a project in an economically exploding district. The goal must be, at some point, to let the market dictate such projects as much as possible, and this is as good a time as any for the ECIDA and the rest of the community to take a deep breath to evaluate the circumstances of such requests for incentives.

If they’re appropriate – meaning that taxpayers will sufficiently benefit from the investment – then go ahead. But first, figure that out.

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