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ECIDA sets record by approving tax breaks for seven projects

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency had a record-setting day on Wednesday.

The economic development agency approved tax breaks for seven projects – the largest number of projects that it has provided subsidies for in a single meeting since it was created in 1970, agency officials said.

"It shows the economic development activity that is happening in our region," said Brenda McDuffie, the agency's chairman.

In all, the seven projects that received tax incentives – ranging from a Town of Tonawanda high-temperature insulation manufacturer to a pair of projects to turn long-vacant buildings in Kenmore into apartments – are expected to result in $56.4 million in new private investment within the Buffalo Niagara region. In return, the IDA approved tax breaks that will save the project developers a total of $3.5 million.

That works out to $6 in incentives for every $94 in private investment. "That's a pretty good return on your investment," said Steven Weathers, the agency's CEO.

The flurry of activity on Wednesday stood in marked contrast to the agency's sluggish pace of activity throughout last year. The IDA during all of 2016 approved tax breaks for a total of 13 projects – its lowest level of activity in 10 years.

The agency approved taxpayer subsidies for these projects:

1. Unifrax – The Town of Tonawanda manufacturer received $1.25 million in tax breaks for its $26 million project to build an 83,000-square-foot plant to make polycrystalline fiber insulation in the North Youngmann Commerce Center. The project is expected to create 25 jobs paying an average of slightly more than $50,000 a year. Unifrax already employs 435 at two other sites in the Town of Tonawanda.

"There was competition for this project," said Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger, an IDA board member. "It came down to the Town of Tonawanda or Prague" in the Czech Republic.

2. Sumitomo Rubber – The tire maker received $1.05 million in tax breaks for its $9.7 million project to build a 35,000-square-foot expansion to its Town of Tonawanda factory complex. The expansion, to be built on a nearby brownfield, is expected to help the company retain its 1,241 local jobs but is not expected to result in any additional hiring. The project will allow Sumitomo to double its production to 10,000 tires a day by 2019.

3. Shea's Seneca Street – The largely vacant historic building at 2178 Seneca St. will be turned into 25 apartments, with rents ranging from $900 to $1,400, as well as 20,000 square feet of commercial space that is expected to include a nonprofit community theater group, a banquet facility and neighborhood retail businesses. The IDA approved $441,727 in tax breaks for the $9 million project planned by a development group that includes Jake and Kathryn Schneider, along with Andrew Dorn Jr. and Andrew Dorn IV.

4. Double Eagle Kenmore – The agency approved $215,000 in tax breaks for developers Larry Bicz and Ken Vasile for their $4.25 million plan to turn the former St. Paul school building at 45 Victoria Blvd. in Kenmore into 37 market-rate apartments, with rents that are expected to average about $1,000 a month.

5. Tecumseh Redevelopment – The IDA approved $175,000 in sales tax savings as part of a deal with the owner of the former Bethlehem Steel complex to sell about 100 acres of the brownfield site to an IDA entity that plans to turn it into a commercial and industrial park. The tax breaks will allow Tecumseh to spend $3.5 million to install a 12-inch slag cover over the property that is being sold so it can meet environmental standards and qualify for more lucrative tax credits that will be available only through the end of this year. The sales tax savings were used to reduce the purchase price paid for the property.

6. Aakron Rule – The Akron company, which is the largest maker of wooden rulers and yardsticks in the world, received $356,460 in tax breaks for a $2.7 million expansion project that will add 25,000 square feet of space and increase the size of its Indianola Avenue factory by a third. Aakron Rule, which currently employs 142 people, has pledged to create 13 new jobs within two years.

7. Delaware Lodge – Developers Gret and Cheryl Rodems received $59,350 in tax breaks for their $1.25 million project to convert the former Masonic Lodge at 173 Delaware Road into seven one- and two-bedroom apartments. The one-bedroom units are expected to rent for about $1,1,00 a month, while the two-bedroom apartments will have rents of around $1,900 a month.

The Masonic Lodge building has been vacant for more than five years, as has the St. Paul school building. While the IDA generally does not provide subsidies for market rate housing projects, it will provide incentives if it involves the renovation of a building that has been vacant for many years under an adaptive reuse policy that has largely been focused on projects within the City of Buffalo.

"It just goes to show that we are looking at adaptive reuse outside the city," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, an IDA board member.

The agency also increased the value of the sales tax incentives it granted to developer Mark H.  Trammel's Pilgrim Village Associates housing project near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to $2.1 million to reflect rising costs since the board gave its original approval to the incentives in December.

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