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Latest Trico tax break will be worthwhile if it kick-starts key downtown project

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency has come to the rescue of the financially struggling effort to remake the abandoned Trico building. It’s important for this critical location to be put to productive use and, while we’re not 100 percent certain that additional public incentives were the way to go, it’s at least a plausible use of them.

The building – actually a large collection of large buildings – sits on the edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and near the western end of the Kensington Expressway. It is prime real estate in a commercially and residentially booming neighborhood. To leave this giant edifice empty and crumbling is unthinkable.

The question was whether another $3.6 million in tax breaks, beyond the $6.2 million in brownfield tax credits and $16.3 million in historic tax credits, was truly needed for a project in an economically burgeoning area of the city. With even Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz approving the decision, though, the action seems justified. A member of the IDA board, Poloncarz has nonetheless been harshly critical of some of its spending decisions. His approval carries some weight.

Part of the reason that taxpayers can be comfortable with the decision is that it has produced a timeline. Environmental cleanup and abatement is expected to begin this month, according to Peter Krog, whose Orchard Park development company, Krog Corp., is undertaking the project. It is scheduled to be completed two years from now.

No doubt, it is a complex and expensive – $90.5 million – project. Krog has been working for four years to get it underway. When it is done, though, it should provide new and valuable assets to the neighborhood. They include:

• A 114-room extended-stay hotel, targeting Medical Campus patients and visitors. It will be operated in partnership with Buffalo-based Hart Hotels Corp.

• About 150 apartments, ranging from studio units to two-bedroom apartments, targeting workers and students at the new University at Buffalo Medical School being built nearby, as well as Medical Campus employees.

• More than 100,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. That component will comprise slightly less than a quarter of a revamped complex that will span 479,000 square feet in all.

• A new Buffalo Culinary School, undertaken as part of an expansion of the city’s Emerson School of Hospitality. The school is expected to occupy about a fifth of the space in the renovated complex.

• Indoor parking for about 300 cars.

With this project, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus will begin to reach its economic potential, as commercial and residential services meet the growing need of the neighborhood, which includes – or will soon include – two large hospitals, a medical school, a cardiovascular center and other components.

And, of course, the Medical Campus is just one component of Buffalo’s broad-based resurgence, which includes Canalside, the adjacent HarborCenter, a developing Outer Harbor, the RiverBend project and Larkinville. Skeptics of Buffalo’s comeback – and they exist, even within the community – will find it increasingly hard to convince others of their doubts.

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