On the surface, the $96 million conversion of the decades-old low-income townhouse community known as Pilgrim Village into Campus Square looks like a win-win.
Those living in the aging development could get the chance to live in new affordable digs alongside those seeking new market-rate housing within the shadow of the burgeoning Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
The project secured the backing of the State Housing Finance Agency, which approved low-income housing tax credit financing. And the Erie County Industrial Development Agency approved tax breaks. Groundbreaking was to be this summer.
All seemed well – and could be still – but for a very public dispute between the complex’s owner and a Buffalo developer.
This affordable housing development, built in 1980 and home to 17 residential buildings and 90 apartments on 11.41 acres just north of the Medical Campus, has been frozen in time. With a renewed focus on the campus and downtown, it is prime property.
Besides affordable housing and market-rate units, Campus Square plans include 42,000 square feet of commercial space for a grocery store, restaurant, dental office and coffee shop.
As recently reported by News staff writers Phil Fairbanks and Jonathan D. Epstein, Campus Square has been a few years in the making, and more than two dozen residential units have already been demolished. Now there is a roadblock in the form of a dispute between McGuire Development Co. and Mark H. Trammell, owner of Pilgrim Village.
Trammell ran afoul of HUD regulations and McGuire CEO F. James McGuire said his company agreed to pay the $650,000 settlement on Trammell’s behalf. By then, his firm was already “heavily invested” in the Campus Square project, which included a monetary commitment and “a passion and effort perspective,” according to the CEO. McGuire also said that the lenders wanted Trammell out of the project, primarily because of the HUD settlement, and he labeled Trammell an “impediment to moving forward.”
For his part, Trammell says he wants to proceed with a new developer.
The situation needs to be resolved for the sake of Pilgrim Village residents – hopefully soon to be residents of Campus Square – and for the potential to see an example of a mixed-income development that was not forced on a developer by inclusionary zoning.
That may mean the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development stepping in to resolve the dispute, or some interested elected official intervening before the entire project is lost.
This is now an ugly, public fight that risks the potential to reshape a neighborhood for the better, and needs to be settled.