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LAWMAKERS SEEK DEALS FOR SEVERAL BUILDINGS

The Niagara County Legislature is working on deals that could lead to newly constructed county office buildings on Main Street in Niagara Falls and behind the Summit Park Mall in Wheatfield.

The buildings would be built privately and leased by the county.

Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso, chairman of the Public Works Committee, said Friday that real estate deals are starting to percolate as the county tries to rid itself of old buildings.

Targeted for sale or closure are the Human Resources Building at 10th and East Falls streets, Niagara Falls; the Switzer Building on Davison Road, Lockport; the Shaw Building on the Mount View campus on Upper Mountain Road, Lockport; and the County Building on Wheatfield Street, North Tonawanda.

Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said the county wants new Niagara Falls locations for the Social Services and Probation departments.

Social Services uses the Human Resources Building, while Probation works in the Civic Building at Third Street and Cedar Avenue, used primarily by State Supreme and Family courts.

"We've got somebody who might be building us a brand-new building," Virtuoso said. "It would be the first new building on Main Street in years."

The site would house both Social Services and Probation and be near the former Jenss Department Store, Virtuoso said. However, the private developers need to acquire more property, he said.

Virtuoso said Richard Hastings, owner of several Main Street buildings, is involved along with another man Virtuoso would not name. Hastings could not be reached to comment.

The building would cover about 40,000 square feet. Virtuoso said, "They claim they could have it up in four or five months. The rent would be very reasonable. It would be less than we're paying now (to maintain the Human Resources Building)."

He said that cost is between $12 and $14 per square foot. If Social Services is located in the building, state and federal reimbursements would cover 75 percent of the rent, Virtuoso said.

The county sought space for the Probation Department in the Fleet Bank building on Third Street in Niagara Falls, but Virtuoso said the deal fell through because of lease terms for an existing tenant, attorney Rocco J. Bruno Jr. "We were going to buy out his lease," Virtuoso said, "but it seems Fleet had a veto over who the tenant would be. Apparently, they didn't want Probation."

Virtuoso said James Anthony, owner of the Summit Park Mall, has sent the county an offer to construct a new building on Plaza Drive. Anthony said, "They've told us they need 40,000 to 50,000 square feet."

Anthony said such a building would cost $4 million to $5 million. The tenants would likely be the Health and Mental Health departments, now located in the run-down Shaw Building.

Anthony had offered the county free office space in the mall itself, but withdrew the offer in October when most of the mall was turned over to the developers of the planned Niagara Christmas Wonderland.

"We would need to have at least a 20-year lease," Anthony said, adding that if the county wanted to buy the building later, he'd be willing to sell. "We're flexible. We want to make this project a win-win for the county and the region," he said.

Virtuoso said talks continue with Lockport developer David L. Ulrich on leasing the Delphi Harrison Training Center on East Avenue to become Social Services' Lockport headquarters.

That department is now based in the Switzer Building, the former county infirmary.

Virtuoso said the price is likely to be higher than the $300,000 a year the county pays Ulrich for space for seven departments in his Golden Triangle Plaza at Main and Market streets.

"It's a bigger building, 42,000 square feet. There's more parking," Virtuoso said.

An appraiser's report was expected Friday on the North Tonawanda building, home to a motor vehicle office and a part-time Family Court facility.

Mayor David J. Burgio has expressed interest in having the city buy the building for court use, perhaps while leasing the auto bureau space back to the county.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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