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Conversion of Kenmore's St. Paul's School into Parish Apartments set to begin

The next phase in construction on the 37-unit apartment complex in the former St. Paul's School in Kenmore will soon begin, Larry Bicz says.

Abatement work will start by the end of the week and construction is expected to take five months.

Parish Apartments should open in October or November, Bicz said.

Historic tax credits were key to moving the $5 million project forward, he said.

"You can't turn schools into viable assets without tax credits. You can't turn these buildings into shopping plazas," said Bicz.

He admits that at one point last year, as he awaited approval of historic tax credits, he thought the project might not happen.

Bicz grew up in Kenmore on Victoria Boulevard, just down the street from St. Paul's Church and school. He went to family weddings and funerals at St. Paul's and went to religious education classes and Boy Scout troop meetings in the adjacent school.

When his father, Ted, became ill, he returned to Victoria Boulevard to care for him and the two would walk to the end of the street and sit on the bench in front of St. Paul's school. It was his father, who died in 2011, who encouraged him to buy the school, said Bicz.

Bicz has been a developer for 30 years and his company Double Eagle Kenmore LLC,  named in honor of his dad, an avid golfer, had envisioned turning the vacant school into "faith-based" apartments.

In July, Bicz received unanimous approval from Kenmore to go forward with his plan to convert the 50,000-square-foot former St. Paul's School on Victoria Boulevard into 37-market-rate apartments, but the project was put on hold as Bicz awaited tax incentives to move the project forward.

Bicz said his $5 million plan to convert the Kenmore school will move forward after financing and historic tax credits were recently approved.

The project hinged on:

  • Federal and state historic tax credit, valued at $1.6 million, in reduced financing on the project.
  • Adoption of a 485-a local law. The 12-year property assessment break allows a mixed-use developer to pay taxes on the value of the unimproved property for eight years and then the tax exemption decreases in steps over the next four years until the full assessment is reached. Both the Village of Kenmore and the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District had adopted the law. The Town of Tonawanda adopted the local law on Monday.
  • On Wednesday, Bicz will meet with the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to seek sales tax exemptions on the costs of construction materials and a one percent mortgage exemption, valued at $40,000.

"This is a great project. It's a great reuse of an old school building," said Councilman John A. Bargnesi Jr. after the town board meeting. "We are hopeful that other applicants will apply for this mixed-use exemption."

The school, built in 1924, will be put on the historical registry and they must abide by stringent redevelopment rules, said Bicz, but he said historical tax credits allow them to sell financing at a reduced rate to develop the historic site at a more reasonable cost.

Bicz said the "faith-based" apartments will not be restricted to church members, but he said he has already received a lot of interest in the apartments from parishioners who want to sell their houses, stay in the village and be involved with their church.

A new hall is under construction at the rear of St. Paul's Church and is being built by the Diocese of Buffalo.

He said a few years ago he approached the church about selling the school building and gave them $500,000 cash for the school and brought in architect Sean Pellow, from Steiglitz and Snyder Architecture, to design a new hall for the church.

"We've designed the whole process with St. Paul's," said Bicz. "There's a new building being built for them and my architects redesigned the whole campus so they have a new hall that's connected into the church. They can still have religious education and have seating for 140 people so they can still have events for their parish."

He said the church had only been using 2 percent of the former school building and had been paying $70,000 a year to keep the mostly unused building open.

He said housing or another school are the best options for these former schools.

Plans are to build 37 apartments, of which 28 will be one-bedroom apartments in a variety of sizes, eight two-bedroom apartments and one loft. The apartments will vary in size from 700-square-feet to 1,110 square feet. He said the gymnasium and stage, which must remain historically intact, will be available for commercial space and as a meeting space.

Larry Bicz looks over the old gymnasium wall in St. Paul's School which will be preserved in the historic renovation.

He said he's had to "jump through a lot of hoops," but he wanted to save the school.

"I have a history here," said Bicz of the Village of Kenmore. "The community has been super supportive – and the mayor and trustees have been unbelievable. My architects are Kenmore people and I used a lot of Kenmore vendors ... everyone has a reason to be involved."

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