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New Emerson School of Hospitality wins Planning Board OK, seeks tax breaks

Construction on the proposed new Emerson School of Hospitality in downtown Buffalo could begin by January, after the city Planning Board gave the $36.8 million project a green light.

But first the developers have to sign a lease agreement that's being negotiated with the Buffalo Public Schools. They also want sales and mortgage recording tax breaks, to boot, as the project costs have increased.

McGuire Development Co., Mark Croce and James Jerge - through Emerson Huron LLC - want to renovate the vacant C.W. Miller Livery building at 73-79 West Huron St. into a second campus for the popular city-operated high school.

The project, which has been in the works for months, would create a six-level space for teaching Buffalo students about the hotel, restaurant and catering fields, in addition to math, science, social studies and English.

The new urban campus would be near the existing Emerson School, and would be linked to Croce's new Curtiss Hotel, which opened this past summer at the corner of Franklin and West Huron streets. That would provide opportunities for collaboration and live training in an actual hospitality setting, while adding hotel management to Emerson's program offerings.

Plans call for renovating the 90,000-square-foot former stable into an 80,000-square-foot culinary school for 500 students on 0.58 acres, with a public restaurant, a private dining room, and banquet and special-event space. It would also include kitchens, a bakery, food preparation and serving space, freight service elevators, and distribution space for supplies, as well as standard classrooms and lockers.

A two-story gymnasium would be added, propped up on piers one floor above a parking lot next door. And there will be one 600-square-foot apartment, renting for $900 per month.

The project costs, which are up from $30 million previously, include $24 million for renovation, $2 million for the 5,000-square-foot addition, $4.5 million for furniture and equipment, and $6 million for "soft" professional costs.

The project, designed by Kideney Architects, will be financed with $7 million in state and federal historic tax credits and state brownfield tax credits, more than $5.8 million in equity from the developers, and $24 million in financing. It's also up for a $750,000 low-interest loan from the Buffalo Building Re-Use Project fund, pending underwriting and final approval by the Buffalo Urban Development Corp.

Additionally, the trio is seeking $240,000 in mortgage tax breaks and $1.75 million in sales tax help from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, plus a state-sponsored partial property-tax break.

The project received three needed variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals last week. Once started, construction is expected to last 18 months until summer 2019, in time for the start of school that September - a year later than originally planned.

The school district has long talked about creating a second version of the popular culinary school. An earlier plan to put a second Emerson in the old Trico building fell through, with the district pulling out of the deal while citing the developer's inability to meet timelines outline in the agreement.  After receiving a second round of proposals, the School Board chose the current development team in July.

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