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A BOOST FOR DOWNTOWN HOUSING

The Buffalo Common Council's unanimous approval of an incentive package aimed at spurring new investments was the right thing to do. And the mayor's pledge to sign the local law is, as he said, a no-brainer.

The Council was reacting to a bill passed by the State Legislature that allows cities with populations of at least 50,000 to give tax exemptions to developers for certain mixed-use projects. The exemptions would come with some strings attached, including a requirement that developers spend at least $170,000 on the conversions. The tax breaks would apply only to the value of the improvements that are made. Projects would receive 100 percent exemptions for the first eight years, with the tax breaks gradually shrinking in the ninth through 12th years.

Assemblyman Brian Higgins sponsored the bill and Council Members Brian Davis and David Franczyk sponsored the measure at the local level. The expectation is that it will prove to be a catalyst for revitalization. Similar measures have been undertaken in lower Manhattan, Boston, Chicago and other regions.

Majority Leader Rosemarie LoTempio expressed some reservations, saying she would be more comfortable if the city could begin collecting tax revenue after five years. Her concerns are not entirely without merit, but there is a larger picture here.

In most cases, redevelopment would not take place without incentives. And given the sorry state of downtown, the city unfortunately is in no position to drive a hard bargain. Main Street is mostly a vacant strip of storefronts. Why not fill those vacancies with a residential component of apartments and condominiums? As this page has noted before, nothing will help revive downtown more than affordable rental housing. Anything that can further that goal is in the city's best interests.

The Council was wise to take advantage of the state law.

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